The Golden Rule and Political Reform

Money is expanding its role in national politics, thanks to two Supreme Court decisions. As part of a series of posts to test whether the Golden Rule can be used as a governing concept rather than just to guide personal behavior, I’ll take a brief look at whether adding a Golden Rule constitutional amendment would change the outcome of these cases.

In its McCutcheon v FEC decision released earlier this month, the Supreme Court continued down a path embraced in Citizens United of eliminating campaign financing restrictions that are not specifically intended to prevent quid pro quo corruption or the clear appearance of corruption. The McCutcheon decision removes cumulative contribution limits to certain types of political committees, following on the Citizens United decision to allow unrestricted donations by corporations, associations and unions to independent political groups.

Would the outcome of these cases be different if the nation adopted an amendment to the constitution to embed the Golden Rule in our founding document? I argue it likely would change. I also believe that reducing the influence of money on our nation’s government is critically needed.

A Golden Rule amendment might read as follows: “The nation’s laws, regulations and enforcement must fully consider compliance with the Golden Rule concept of ‘doing unto others as one would have done unto oneself’ and its negative form of ‘not doing unto others what one would not wish for oneself.’ Consideration includes obtaining knowledge and understanding of various effects of such laws, regulations and enforcement, including short- and long-term ramifications on all affected.”

With this as the standard, several questions would need to be asked and answered to reach the right decision. As Ethics and the Golden Rule author Professor Harry Gensler points out, Golden Rule behavior requires gaining knowledge, imagining oneself in different circumstances, testing for consistency of treatment and then acting in a Golden Rule manner. Following are a few key questions used in following this exercise on money in politics:

  • Should an individual have a meaningfully reduced chance of having a grievance with government addressed or an opportunity created simply based on lacking wealth? No.
  • Do the wealthy—including individuals, unions, companies and associations—use government to secure competitive advantages that provide them an unfair advantage in the marketplace? Yes.
  • Does cronyism in government (and crony capitalism) detract from the overall health of the nation? Yes.
  • Do we believe that money contributes to the level of cronyism in government? Yes.
  • Would reducing the amount of money and percentage of money from individual sources reduce the incentive for crony-based government? Yes.

In the McCutcheon majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts argues that since the “First Amendment protects flag burning, funeral protests, and Nazi parades—despite the profound offense such spectacles cause—it surely protects political campaign speech despite popular opposition.” Leaving aside how the Golden Rule might affect those other controversial issues, I’m convinced that including the Golden Rule in our foundational principles would lead to different outcomes in both the Citizens United and McCutcheon cases.

Those who have read some of my other writing know that I believe our entire political system requires reform. I’d prefer not to have to wait. While many focus on term limits to fix our flaws, I think our political system requires a more fundamental overhaul.

The Political Freedom constitutional amendment I believe necessary to fix our political system is touched on in my first two books. It includes:

  • Sixty-day primary and general election cycles with fundraising limited to within those cycles (so lawmakers get back to spending most of their time on solving problems rather than making fundraising calls),
  • Open primaries with the top two candidates advancing to the general election regardless of party (so that general election choices are less likely to be drawn from the extremes of the two major political parties). I note that California recently shifted to this type of system,
  • Contributions limited to 1/10th or 1/100th of one percent of a candidate’s donations (1/10th for House and 1/100th for Senate) to further restrict the amount of money flowing into politics and the likelihood of quid pro quo corruption,
  • Bans on contribution bundling by all sources—including political parties, unions, corporations, association, law firms and every other form of political action organization (to reduce the influence of organizations and their bureaucratic instincts on government, including the unhealthy influence of political parties),
  • Bans on non-candidate advertising in the final 30 days of each election (so that negative advertising at least has potential consequences to the person producing it to potentially offset its desired effects),
  • Computer-drawn redistricting based on randomly drawn starting points within each state (so voters are more likely to select their representatives rather than the other way around)
  • Elimination of majority-minority district requirements (to eliminate race-based divides among our representatives and encourage candidates to bring diverse groups together)

While this is a far from comprehensive review, I believe that embedding the Golden Rule in our foundation through a constitutional amendment would affect how our nation’s laws and rules are created and enforced. At least from the perspective of our political system, I believe it’s needed and would lead to substantial improvement. I’d be thrilled to see the Political Freedom concepts outline above passed as well to speed the pace of fixing our political system.

Either way, we would be better off than we are today.


Next up: the Golden Rule and income inequality.



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