EVENT REPORT: Cato Institute Book Forum Tuesday, October 13, at 12:00 p.m. in Washington, D.C. Featuring the author, James T. Bennett, Professor of Economics, George Mason University; with comments by Theresa Amato, Author, Grand Illusion: The Myth of Voter Choice in a Two-Party Tyranny; and Hans A. von Spakovsky, Senior Legal Fellow, Heritage Foundation, and former member, Federal Election Commission. Moderated by John Samples, Director, Center for Representative Government, Cato Institute. Luncheon to follow.
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Jim Bennett: also the author of Destroying Democracy: How Government Funds Partisan Democracy, professor of Economics at George Mason University, where “public choice” is an area of emphasis. Book written because very little has been done in Political Science on the subject of third parties and the two-party tyranny. He notes that while the Constitution says nothing of parties, the debate about the Constitution did discuss factions and the fear of a tyranny of the majority, special interests seeking to leverage state power for their own benefit.
A major reason we are suffering the two-party tyranny now is the 1842 Apportionment Act that reduced districts to a single representative, this combines with the “Divergers Law” that strongly favors two party winner take all systems. Similarly the Electoral College “winner take all” system ecnourages two large blocks. Ballot access varies by state but in general is heavily weighted against third party access, demanding thousands of signatures, all subject to “challenge” for the slightest variation, while the two parties in power are automatically on every ballot. History of ballot access blockage goes back to fear of communists and a general sense of third parties as spoilers.
The “demopublicans” as he calls them cause most to disengage from politics, low voter turn-out being somewhat correlated with lack of choice. Incumbents have the frank, constituent newsletters, and access to media. In 1987 the Commission on Presidential Debats, actually a private corporation representing only the two parties, displaced the League of Women Voters so as to exclude third parties.
He notes that the US is in active violation of the Helsinki Accords and specifically the two clauses that call for a complete separation of state from party, and for any individual being able to run for office.
What is to be done? 1) dramatically reduce size of government and government budget, much of what is done is unconstitutiional; 2) repeal all ballot access laws; 3) repeal all restrictions on campaign finance while demanding full disclosure; and 4) implement the instance run-off.
Theresa Amato, author of Grand Illusion: The Myth of Voter Choice in a Two-Party Tyranny was the discussant but properly received equal billing and time. She summarized her practical experiences as campaign manager for Ralph Nader, observing that the system is rigged in favor of the two-party tyranny and it is a myth that anyone can be a candidate in the absence of support from one of the two parties or billions of dollars. Her book is extraordinary for having a foreword by Ralph Nader, who was present today, and a strong public endorsement from Ron Paul.
Among the systemic barriers:
1. Federal regulations not written for third parties, meaning that when “the code is silent” advisory opinions have to be requested that take months.
2. 51 different ballot access laws, all written by members of the two bi-opoloy parties.
3. 13,000 distinct jurisdictions over federal elections.
4. Even when laws have been found to be unconstitutional by the courts, the two parties holding legislative power refuse to change them. This means there is an “aggregate burden” on all third parties as they are obliged to spend two thirds of their time and money getting on the ballot–simply trying to get to the starting line.
5. Hostile media, e.g. NYT calling Nader and Buchana “cluttering the field.”
6. Media racket–the air waves are owned by the public but media are allowed to charge millions for advertisements, effectively a symbiotic relationship with the two parties that disenfranchises third parties.
7. Commission on Presidential Debates shuts out 3rd parties, Perot scared them, “never again.”
8. All of the above are fundamental structural issues. In addition to that is the misbehavior of the Democrats, who brought 24 different lawsuits against Nader in the space of just 12 weeks in 2004–this is nothing less than systemic oppression and repression.
Hans A. von Spakovsky. The speaker, a Republican who has served as a commissioner on the Federal Election Commission (FEC), served as a discussant and generally took issue with the observation by Jim Bennett (and many others across the literature) that there is no discernible difference between the two parties in power. He considers federal election law to be byzantine and confusing, and stated that the commissioners did their best and rarely broke along party lines (three each, we are waiting to hear if Independents will be appointed to the two existing vacancies), generally being unanimous on enforcement issues and divided on ambiguous issues but leaning toward being less restrictive where possible.
In the “Citizens United” case he was one of seven former FCC commissioners who filed an amicus brief stating that the law is “unenforceable.”
He expressed concern about Congress now thinking about extending public funding toward state and local elections. He was adamant on the issue of public funding not achieving its objectives, in large part because the public does not support it with their voluntary tax deducations. At the high point, 25-30% of those filing checked the box, now the percentage is vastly lower.
He disagrees with proportional representation, which he states leads to grid-lock, but had no answer to a question on why this did not justify one single party taking all the power.
The first question asked the panel why the various third parties did not come together on the one thing they all agreed with, demanding Electoral Reform. No member of the panel addressed the question effectively.
The book The Vanishing Voter, was recommended by one of the panel members in passing.
Also prominent in her attendance was Christina Tobin, another disciple of Ralph Nader who is now Chairman of the Board of Free & Equal, one of the most significant new initiatives in the public interest, listed from early on as one of the Righteous Sites within Phi Beta Iota.
Hans A. von Spakovsky.
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