Election 2014

This Is How Incumbent Politicians Game the System to Ensure Their Own Re-Election

No matter how angry the voters, incumbents always win


I'm told that the public is "angry" at today's politicians. Eighty-two percent disapprove of the job Congress is doing. So will Tuesday's election bring a big shakeup?

No. Congressional reelection rates never drop below 85 percent.

The last big "wave" election was 1994, when Democrats lost control of both houses. The media called it a "revolution," and the late Peter Jennings from ABC likened Americans to 2-year-olds throwing a tantrum.

Even that year, the reelection rate was 90 percent.

Matt Kibbe of the group FreedomWorks and Hadley Heath Manning of Independent Women's Forum came on my show to say they don't believe that this will be the year voters "throw the bums out."

Incumbents have all sorts of built-in advantages, said Manning: "Once you're in office, you have network ties, usually with a big party organization, usually with other officeholders. You have ties to donors who have helped you in your previous round of fundraising."

In the U.S., she says, "we don't have kings, (but) we still have political dynasties."

Politicians in office game the system to make it tougher for outsiders to challenge them. They always talk about getting money out of politics. They don't mean getting taxpayer money out of their own end of politics—all those privileges such as government mailings and websites and broadcasting facilities right in the Capitol Building. No, the money they want to limit is outsiders' money.

When Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) says "this money is suffocating the airwaves, silencing the voices of the many," she means she wants to prevent private groups funding political messages that sometimes criticize people like her. Expensive TV ads might allow unknown challengers to break through. Can't have that.

Manning says Democrats who now push the idea of a Constitutional amendment to limit campaign ads "want to rig the system so that their donors are still able to give—whether that's labor unions or people who typically support Democrats—but they want to silence the opposition." They make it sound as if labor union donations are a natural part of the democratic process—but money from corporations and independent interest groups, by contrast, "interferes" with elections.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) led the charge against evil "outside" money when he got what he and reporters called campaign finance "reform" passed a dozen years ago. The Supreme Court wisely threw much of that out, because it was an attack on free speech. But there are still a million rules left— plenty to discourage "amateurs" from attempting to participate in politics.

"The problem with campaign finance regulation is it allows for an insane amount of discretion amongst the regulators," says Kibbe. "So they can pick and choose who is punished for what. And it's really just a way to control political speech."

A better way to get new blood into politics would be term limits on elected officials. Several states have them, and the result has been more turnover in legislatures. That's good news for taxpayers because studies show that the longer politicians are in office, the more they spend.

Saying most incumbents will win is not saying that the election doesn't matter. It does. It would be good for America if Republicans won the Senate, taking away Sen. Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) power to pass absurd farm subsidies or fatten flood insurance while blocking votes on the things such as the Keystone oil pipeline, charter school expansion, and Yucca Mountain nuclear disposal.

Reid will probably lose his position as majority leader. But he'll remain in Washington with all the other big-spending blowhards—from both parties—who grow old and powerful there.

Update: Last week I wrote that federal prosecutor Kathryn Ruemmler, part of the team of Justice Department bullies who unfairly manipulated the legal system to jail four Merrill Lynch employees, was reportedly President Obama's choice to replace Eric Holder as U.S. attorney general. A few days later, Ruemmler asked the president to withdraw her name from consideration.

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  1. We have to be sure that the worse of the two evils doesn’t win. So just vote team, everything will be fine.

  2. This is why we need public campaign financing. There is just no way in which incumbents could game it to their own ends.

    1. I see what you did there! Aren’t you just the cleverest little guy!

    2. Incumbents and bureaucrats deciding who gets to run for office. I can’t possibly see how that might go wrong.

      1. Nobody in power would ever abuse that power. They’re the good guys.

        1. At least the evil Koch Bros(tm) wouldn’t get to buy the election, like they did in 2012!

  3. Eighty-two percent disapprove of the job [other people’s] Congress[person] is doing.

    It’s getting old constantly fixing this for you, Reason.

  4. I’m all for more checks, term limits included, but there is no easy solution to this problem, so long as we operate with not-very-limited government.

    1. And campaign finance reform which is not-so curiously pushed by incumbents.

      1. Yes, that’s been a joke for a while. It’s almost exactly the same thing as all of the regulations and licensing schemes cooked up by regulators and the large regulated companies/groups to create barriers to entry.

      2. Well they know how hard their jobs are and we can’t just have anyone running, they might actually affect change.

    2. The simple solution is that since the states determine who is eligible to run you limit the number of times you can run at the state level. Once enough states make the change the office holders that are disadvantaged by this will force an admendment. Similar to what happened with prohibition.

      1. Once enough states make the change the office holders that are disadvantaged by this will force an admendment. Similar to what happened with prohibition.

        Considering everyone thinks their congressdude is the good guy and it’s all the other ones that are bad, this would never work.

        1. As many states have term limits for the state level office holders who might want to increase their chances of getting the federal office. I think it could. Once people can’t get top committee positions due to lack of longevity they will adjitate for the admendment.

          It’s all about the personal best interests.

          1. As many states have term limits for the state level office holders who might want to increase their chances of getting the federal office. I think it could. Once people can’t get top committee positions due to lack of longevity they will adjitate for the admendment.

            Right, but with every state you increase the reward for the other states not amending their respective constitutions/laws. It’s a zero sum game that you’re forfeiting to benefit the other players.

            1. You forget there is a party that keeps claiming they’re for an admendment for term limits. You just use their own momentum against them.

              1. Yeah. The day I start relying on politicians to do what they claim they want to do is the day I kill myself for being too fucking retarded for my own good.

                1. This is the same party that for decades claimed they were for smaller government as a talking point until the voters started getting fed up and banded together and said we actually want you to do that AKA the TEA Party. Votes might be dimwitted but eventually the do start to demand the politicians make good on their promises.

                  1. sorry that should say Voters

        2. “Considering everyone thinks their congressdude is the good guy and it’s all the other ones that are bad”

          Not me! I live in SF.

          1. Yeah, but SF has to vote Pelosi because they get the chance to elect a zombie.

        3. Well, I’ll say in no uncertain terms that my Congresswoman and both Senators suck. But, thank you for giving me a sad. 🙁

        4. Considering everyone thinks their congressdude is the good guy

          My congressdude is Keith Ellison, so I don’t think that.

      2. This “simple solution” was already tried back in the 1990s. The federal courts invalidated state-level term limits for federal office, whether limits on eligibility for office or just on eligibility to have the name printed on the ballot.

    3. I have a friend with whom I argue about this all the time. He thinks shadowy outside money is the real problem.

      The fact that 500 or so people get to decide how to spend 3 Trillion dollars a year isn’t a problem to him.

      1. And good luck reducing the amount of our money they get to choose how to spend.

      2. Do we have the same circle of friends?

    4. I thought of an interesting shker upper. Add a third chamber composed entirely of volunteers. Same size as the House. Every one who votes can check a box to volunteer. Select one volunteer from each district. Same pay and perks as House members. But no party affiliations, and with no seniority, there’d bo no whips or leaders, and all committee membership would have to be entirely by votes.

      Since a bill would now have to pass three chambers, it would mainly serve as a veto and investigation chamber.

      Of course there would be a lot of partisan hacks bowing to party wishes. But the party seniority system would vanish, and every two years would be an entirely new group.

  5. Honey, who is it that we always vote for?

  6. Reuters: “Why U.S. green groups are talking about abortion this election

    I have not read the article, but assume the reason is, “they suddenly realized no one gave a shit about their doomsday whinging, now need to pretend Women are being oppressed”

    mmm. Close enough

    “The reason is simple: climate change isn’t a top concern for most voters. Only 3 percent think it should be the country’s top priority, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling.

    NextGen and other green groups say they’re simply doing what it takes to elect the candidates they support.

    Which is an odd argument. “We’re not talking about the issue we ostensibly care about because we know most voters don’t care about it!”

    “”The goal is to win the election, and using climate as part of that victory,” said Craig Hughes, a NextGen adviser in Colorado. “This is not about throwing up an ad about polar bears and butterflies going into extinction. This is making it relevant to the voters.””

    Translation: “POWER!! WE WANT *POWER*!!! FUCK THE POLAR BEARS!!”

    Best quote of the story:

    “”Climate change is a huge issue that we’re just pushing under the rug and not dealing with,” said Emily Rowe, 19, as she twirled a hula hoop on the campus of the University of Colorado. “I’m assuming the Democratic Party is more for that. That’s about all I know.” “

    1. Finally. Wondering what the women who hula hoop on campus common areas across this fair nation think about climate change has kept me up on many a night. Well that and trying to figure out how many licks it takes to get to the center of a tootsie pop.

      1. I kinda wanna know how many licks it takes to get to the center of women who hula hoop on campus common areas across this fair nation.

        1. Not many. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel. Trust me, I went to Berkeley.

          1. It’s easier than shooting fish in the barrel, if you have a fair supply of pot and a groovy record player.

            1. Yeah, I would take back some the notches on my bedpost if I could. I fished with a pretty wide net my junior year.

              1. Somehow I was always drawn to the weird chicks that were social outcasts on campus. Probably because they were just as easy and as mentally disturbed as me.

                  1. not much more fun, but that might be purely antecedal.

                    1. Antecedal to what? Or did you mean anecdotal?

                    2. @ anon the second one. As you can tell I went to a state school.

        2. They are mostly hallow on the inside. But if bong water and bo are your thing, have at it.

          1. Only if I can decide they raped me afterwards.

    2. “Silly plebe, you couldn’t possibly understand how much better we can make life for you if you just give us all the power.”

    3. I really like whoever wrote that article. Quoting a 19 year old college student at Boulder carrying around a hula hoop was a really nice touch.

      1. 19 year old college students always have the best ideas. That’s why they’re all so rich.

      2. The writer seemed to understand that ‘single issue advocacy groups’ that no longer actually do any advocacy for their actual issue, but are just doing everything they can just to get TEAM BLUE elected, *don’t actually even care about their single issue themselves* unless it is a useful tool to elect ‘their people’.

        Steyer’s “Green vision” has pictures of presidents on it. In more ways than one.

    4. Bait and switch.

    5. Nothing makes me feel more powerful than fucking a polar bear.

      1. Except murdering a bear with my dick.

      2. Please. Michelle Obama gets to peg a President. That’s true power!

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