A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Special delivery: Gyrocopter protestor had a message

Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., April 30, May 1 or 2

A Florida mailman landed a small aircraft – a gyrocopter – on Capitol Hill April 15 in a protest about campaign finance reform. Doug Hughes, 61, was carrying 535 letters, to every member of Congress, calling for them to address corruption tied to political contributions and lobbyists.

His ill-advised yet inspiring flight into restricted airspace surprised authorities but the substance of his message didn’t get the attention of media focusing on Bruce Jenner and Hillary’s Chipotle meal.

Here’s Hughes’ letter, according to (edited for space):

Consider the following statement by John Kerry in his farewell speech to the Senate —

"The unending chase for money I believe threatens to steal our democracy itself. They know it. They know we know it. And yet, Nothing Happens!" — John Kerry, 2-13

In a July 2012 Gallup poll, 87% tagged corruption in the federal government as extremely important or very important, placing this issue just barely behind job creation. According to Gallup, public faith in Congress is at a 41-year record low, 7%. (June 2014) Kerry is correct. The popular perception outside the DC beltway is that the federal government is corrupt and the US Congress is the major problem. As a voter, I’m a member of the only political body with authority over Congress. As a member of Congress, you have three options.

1. You may pretend corruption does not exist.

2. You may pretend to oppose corruption while you sabotage reform.

3. You may actively participate in real reform.

If you’re considering option 1, you may wonder if voters really know what the “chase for money” is. Your dismal and declining popularity documented by Gallup suggests we know. That these practices are legal does not make them right!

Dozens of major and very profitable corporations pay nothing in taxes. Voters know how this is done. Corporations pay millions to lobbyists for special legislation.

Almost half of the retiring members of Congress from 1998 to 2004 got jobs as lobbyists earning on average fourteen times their Congressional salary.

The new Democratic freshmen to the U.S. House in 2012 were “advised” by the party to schedule four hours per day on the phones fund raising at party headquarters (because fund raising is illegal from gov’t offices.) It is the donors with deep pockets who get the calls, but seldom do the priorities of the rich donor help the average citizen.

The relevant (rich) donors who command the attention of Congress are only .05% of the public (5 people in a thousand) but these aristocrats of both parties are who Congress really works for. As a member of the US Congress, you should work only for The People.

Not yourself. Not your political party. Not the richest donors to your campaign. Not the lobbyist company who will hire you after your leave Congress.

There are several credible groups working to reform Congress. Their evaluations of the problem are remarkably in agreement though the leadership (and membership) may lean conservative or liberal. They see how the current rules empower special interests through lobbyists and PACs, robbing the average American of any representation on any issue where the connected have a stake. This is not democracy even if the ritual of elections is maintained.

The various mechanisms which funnel money to candidates and congress-persons are complex. It happens before they are elected, while they are in office and after they leave Congress. Fortunately, a solution to corruption is not complicated. All the proposals are built around either reform legislation or a Constitutional Amendment.

Campaign finance reform is the cornerstone of building an honest Congress. Erect a wall of separation between our elected officials and big money. A corporation is not 'people' and no individual should be allowed to spend hundreds of millions to 'influence' an election. That much money is a megaphone which drowns out the voices of 'We the People.' Next, a retired member of Congress has a lifelong obligation to avoid the appearance of impropriety. That almost half the retired members of Congress work as lobbyists and make millions of dollars per year smells like bribery. Pass real campaign finance reform and prohibit even the appearance of payola after retirement and you will be part of a Congress I can respect.

The states have the power to pass a Constitutional Amendment without Congress — and we will. You in Congress will likely embrace the change just to survive, because liberals and conservatives won’t settle for less than democracy. The vast majority of Americans believe in the real democracy we once had, which Congress over time has eroded to the corrupt, dysfunctional plutocracy we have.

The question is where YOU individually stand.


Douglas M. Hughes

[PICTURED: screen grab from Hughes' video announcing/explaining his protest --]

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