Congress: Representing Everyone but the Constituents
Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution, just after the Preamble, describes the Congress. The House of Representatives "[s]hall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States." Note the key words – chosen and representative.
It's true that members of Congress are chosen by voters in their districts, regardless of how gerrymandered and convoluted those districts may be. They are chosen in an election, their votes influenced by a political campaign. This costs money and is financed by either the person running for the congressional seat or campaign donors.
Ultimately, the person elected should be representing those living in his district, providing a voice in the U.S. Congress as policy and legislation are debated and implemented.
While great in theory, how is this working out in reality? Who is actually doing the choosing? Who is being represented. These questions apply not only to representatives, but also to senators, fewer in number, representing an entire state rather than a politically determined district.
Texas primaries were held a week ago. CNN was giddy with anticipation, asking, "Can a blue wave take down Ted Cruz in Texas?" just as they were anticipating a Clinton landslide until about 9 P.M. on election night in 2016.
Far from a wave, more like a ripple, Ted Cruz received more votes than the entire Democrat primary field combined. Now it's on to the general election this November, with Ted Cruz on the Republican side and Beto O'Rourke representing the Democrats.
Will they be representing Texans or the donors funding their campaigns? This is not a partisan issue, as candidates of both parties receive money from outside the regions they represent, raising the question of whom they really represent.
I received the below invitation via email a few days ago, for a Beto O'Rourke fundraiser. From a lobbying group called J Street PAC, an allegedly pro-Israel group that "organizes and mobilizes pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans who want Israel to be secure, democratic and the national home of the Jewish people."
Notice that the invitation is for a fundraiser in Denver, where I live – not in Texas, where O'Rourke is running, the state he hopes to represent. More on that shortly.
J Street PAC, supposedly pro-Israel, is ironically supporting the Democrat candidate, who "cast one of only eight votes in Congress against special funding for Israel's Iron Dome rocket defense system during the recent Gaza war."
The PAC is trying to defeat the Republican candidate, Ted Cruz, who supports President Trump's efforts to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Cruz also called for the U.S. to stop funding the U.N. over the latter's vote to end Israeli settlement building. Which candidate is truly pro-Israel?
It seems the pro-Israel PAC is hitching its wagon to the wrong horse, but perhaps it has other motivations beyond its stated "pro-Israel" stance.
What is more interesting is the fact that a fundraiser for a Texas Senate race is being held in Denver. It's hosted by Stephen Sherick, a fellow Denver physician, active in Democratic Party politics locally and nationally, as unhappy with the 2016 presidential election outcome as CNN was.
If the Cruz-O'Rourke race were for the White House, it would make perfect sense to host a Democratic fundraiser in Colorado, but this is a Texas race. Will either Cruz or O'Rourke be representing Coloradoans in the U.S. Senate?
OpenSecrets.org tracks political fundraising and donations. One section compares "In-District vs. Out-of-District" funding, looking at whether candidates are funded by their actual constituents or by outside interests. Looking at the 2018 election cycle, it's surprising, or perhaps not, how many candidates are funded from beyond the borders of their districts, just as Beto O'Rourke is via a fundraiser in Denver.
Thirty-six congressional candidates receive 100 percent of their 2018 campaign funding from outside the districts they hope to represent. One hundred nine candidates receive 95 percent of their funding from out of district. This is truly bipartisan. Members of both parties are guilty, as are new candidates versus incumbents.
Some examples include open border zealot Democrat Luís Gutiérrez and cowboy hat-wearing Democrat Frederica Wilson. Both are 100 percent funded from outside their districts. Speaker Paul Ryan receives 99 percent of his funding from out of district, and Maxine Waters is at 98 percent outside funding. There are other familiar names, including Republican Trey Gowdy, receiving 93 percent funding from outside his district, and Democrat Adam Schiff at 91 percent.
It seems that "We the Donors," not We the People, are represented by elected members of Congress. This explains the legislative logjam and lack of any fiscal responsibility, from both political parties.
Congress no longer answers to the people, but instead to the donor class. This partially explains Donald Trump's popularity, a politician largely self-funded, from outside the D.C. swamp, and not beholden to the special interests and donors.
After securing the nomination, Trump told supporters, "I understand the responsibility of carrying the mantle, and I will never ever let you down." Those are words we don't hear from members of Congress, with their hands out to donors whom they have no business representing in Congress. They are quick to let voters down, but not their big donors.
Campaign finance reform is a thorny issue, infringing on freedom of speech. But when millions of dollars are flowing to congressional candidates from outside their districts, purchasing future influence, clearly something is wrong.
As a larger example, look at the Clinton Foundation, where donations dropped precipitously once it was apparent that Mrs. Clinton wouldn't be in the White House doing the bidding of her donors. Her influence was being bought by interests, many nefarious, outside the U.S.
The axiom of "follow the money" is certainly true in politics, with the result of a non-representative democracy, contrary to the intentions of the Founding Fathers and the Constitution.
Brian C Joondeph, M.D., MPS is a Denver-based physician and writer. Follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.