The Code of Political Conduct
A trusted nonprofit nonpartisan organization, such as Common Cause or the League of Women Voters, should create a "Political Code of Conduct" which lists 20 "rules" that someone running for elected office agrees to abide by if elected. People who donate money to candidates should first ask, "Have you made the pledge to support the Political Code of Conduct?" This will put pressure on candidates to agree to the principles.
We will send out the Code of Conduct to every major donor in every state, and encourage them to ask the question before they write a check. We will encourage newspapers to ask candidates the question as to whether they support the Code. We will encourage industry organizations to require it for any candidates that seek their endorsement.
In this way, we can reduce the corruption in politics today, at very low cost.
Public financing of elections will also help (as is now working in several states). This is complementary to that.
With public financing of elections and a good "Code of Conduct," we can greatly improve the system.
Elected officials are supposed to represent their constituents and vote in a way that benefits their constituents, and takes into account long term impacts and the impact on others outside their region. So, for example, a Congressman from Detroit may vote in favor of higher fuel standards even if it might mean loss of auto jobs, because the Congressman reasons that Detroit will only do well if the US economy is doing well and that the economy is "at risk" due to our dependence on foreign oil and the unknown changes due to global warming.
Unfortunately, it doesn't work this way in practice. For example, see this excellent SF Chronicle editorial: Do-nothing politics - When the going gets tough, more and more lawmakers are taking a walk.
In my own case, California State Senator Bowen had a bill that would protect Californians against junk faxes by reaffirming existing federal law. It passed in the Senate without a single "no" vote. It is strongly endorsed by business, consumer, and the California Attorney General. And 100% of constituents in any district in America. Everyone hates junk faxes. In fact, the only people we could find in opposition to Bowen's bill was the company that sends the junk faxes and their clients. These are virtually all "fly by night" businesses. No legitimate business uses junk faxes to advertise because it is illegal under federal law.
Yet, when it came to a vote in the Assembly B&P committee, the vote was 4 to 2 in favor of the bill, but enough people abstained so that the bill was killed (you must have 6 votes to make it out of committee). See Panel balks at ban on junk faxes. And none of the Assemblymembers who abstained would return my calls before or after the vote, despite the fact that I'm one of the most knowledgeable people on junk faxes in the country (I created the website www.junkfax.org which is the definitive resource on the Internet about junk faxes). Why did they abstain on this issue? They are supposed to be voting in a way consistent with protecting their constituents. By voting against this bill, they were, in effect, denying their constituents of the protection of federal law. Why?
I couldn't find out. Nobody was talking about why they abstained. Not even their fellow committee members would speculate.
I'm fed up. This has got to stop.
See the Executive Summary above
Here are some of my ideas for inclusion in the political code of conduct