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We need more than a new Congress — We need a reformed Washington

Sam Jammal
Mar 6, 2018 · 8 min read
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Americans do not trust their government. This was a problem before Trump that has only gotten worse. And while Trump’s presidency has been a disgrace, his campaign tapped into an anger felt by many Americans that is very real. Too many families are falling behind while our elected officials are only focused on raising funds, living large or scoring a political point. This is a problem because our challenges will only get harder as new technologies change the job market for millions of Americans, but we do not have elected officials either capable or willing to fight for those who rightly feel left behind.

I worked in Congress and left in disgust after my tenures in the Senate and House. Congress is functionally a playground for the wealthy. Members are either of extreme wealth or on their way to extreme wealth. Their mornings, afternoons and evenings are spent at fancy steakhouses currying the favor of wealthy donors and lobbyists. Most hardly read anything before taking votes.

I come from a working-class background, which I learned was a rarity in DC, and never fit in all that well. I would bring in my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and spend my day listening to a parade of lobbyists, consultants and millionaires tell us how Congress can help them. While I don’t begrudge people for making their case on behalf of their employer, it always seemed like my job was meant to try to help them do their job.

No one ever came by to advocate for the people I grew up with. Only recently has there been any mention about student debt. And you barely hear anything about the cost of child care or out of pocket health care costs — which are real issues many Americans are struggling with. Even when attempts were made to actually help people, it was always focused on how we can get a political win. We are seeing this today with DACA.

I am running where I grew up in California’s 39th district because I am concerned about my community and country. I know how Congress and the Executive Branch work. I learned how to pass good laws and stop bad ones. And, while we need this experience to stop the Trump agenda — what we need most are new voices who will fix our broken government and restore trust.

We can’t keep up what we are doing. Our system is functionally pay-to-play and Members of Congress operate in the dark while making decisions that are making things so much harder for the rest of us.

To pass good laws, we need to make Congress work again. This goes beyond Republicans and Democrats. Here are my ideas on fixing Congress:

Fix How Campaign Finance Works: Money is destroying American politics. Whether its special interests like the NRA using their resources to block gun control or the parade of millionaires trying to buy and influence elections across America, our democracy is in real danger.

· Repeal Citizens United — This must be the top priority of Congress. While it will take years for a constitutional amendment to pass, the process must start immediately.

· End Dark Money in Politics — While Citizens United opened the floodgates of money in politics, this doesn’t mean this money can’t be regulated or lack transparency. All donors and money spent to influence elections must be disclosed. Every Democrat must take a pledge to oppose any dark money spending on their behalf — we must show leadership otherwise we are no different than Republicans. I oppose any dark money used on my behalf in June and hope my Democratic opponents will pledge the same.

· End the Self-Funding Circus that has become Democratic Politics — We can’t put a “For Sale” sign on our elections and tie party support to the highest bidder. A wealthy candidate for office should have to raise funds and build an operation like everyone else. This shows people beyond your consultants want you in office. Self-funding candidates should pledge to only match their personal donations at the same rate they would otherwise be able to raise from grassroots donors within their district. Here in the 39th, we have two mega-millionaires — who don’t live in our district or have ties to our community — vying for the Democratic nomination. This has created concerns over Democrats being crowded out in California’s top two primary. And, as the only candidate to not self-fund, it has made my race a case study on whether a regular person from the working class can still run for Congress in their community.

· Cap Individual Donations and Corporate Donations the Same — The maximum for a corporate PAC is $5,000 in a primary. For an individual, the maximum is $2,700. This is backwards. Corporate PACs contributions should be capped at the same rate as individuals. I have pledged to not take PAC money from the oil and natural gas industries because I worked in clean energy and saw their undue influence. We must level the playing field.

· Establish a Public Financing Match Program — Candidates meeting a certain threshold — say $200,000 raised — should be able to participate in public financing match. While I am not wedded to the base line number, there should be a minimum threshold that pushes the candidate to do the work of raising money and shows community support. At the same time, a job requirement of running for Congress shouldn’t be that you are a millionaire or have a handful of wealthy benefactors.

· Ban on Contributions from Government Contractors — If you are receiving a contract from the federal government, you should not be able to finance the campaigns of those who fund these contracts. We spend so much money funding special interest projects when we really need to be funding our schools, roads and public safety. Banning these contributions will keep government honest and is critical as we face tighter budgets in the coming years.

· Ban PAC Trips — An open secret to get around rules prohibiting private interests from funding congressional travel are PAC trips. Members of Congress in both parties will hold destination weekends where wealthy donors and lobbyists pay for a weekend getaway with the Member of Congress. The Member of Congress and their family receives a few nice meals paid for by their donors and a free vacation. This is wrong on so many levels and must be banned.

Fix How Congress Works: Congress is fundamentally broken and needs new rules to restore public trust. We are well past replacing Republicans with Democrats as the needed fix. We need steps to hold Congress accountable and make them responsive to us.

· Establish Congressional Term Limits — No one should spend a generation in office, which was the case with Congressman Ed Royce. We need a government responsive to changes in our community. If elected and re-elected, I pledge to serve no more than 5 terms (10 years) in Congress. If you can’t make improvements to our country in 10 years, you have no business collecting a check from taxpayers. While there are examples of Members of Congress who have served for 20 years and contributed immensely, there are also dozens of examples of Members of Congress who literally do nothing other than show up to work, yet have the advantage of incumbency to prevent challengers. We can’t do this anymore — our country and economy are changing too rapidly to be a retirement home.

· Ban on Member or Member Spouse Lobbying or Family Enrichment — Too many Members of Congress are enriching themselves and their family. Public service should be about helping your community, not a path to being a millionaire. There should be a 10-year ban on lobbying for any Member of Congress, their spouse and their children on the federal level. We also must fix our campaign finance laws to ban any spouse, child or family-owned enterprise from being paid by a candidate for federal office. There are already prohibitions on using congressional funds to pay family members, but too many Members of Congress get around this prohibition through their campaign accounts. This just looks terrible and destroys trust in government.

· No Secret Settlements — Members of Congress must be prohibited from using tax dollars to settle sexual harassment or any workplace discrimination claims. Likewise, no campaign funds should be used for these settlements. If a Member of Congress is forced to settle a claim, the claim must be made public. Voters deserve to know if their Congressman is harasser.

· No Budget, No Pay — In any other job, you don’t get paid if you fail to do your job. The same should go for Congress. If Congress fails to pass a budget and spending bills — which is now the norm in DC — they should not be paid until an agreement is reached. Likewise, if there is a shutdown, Members of Congress should be held responsible for paying the cost of maintaining their offices out of their personal bank accounts until an agreement is reached. Taxpayers shouldn’t foot the bill for incompetence.

· Make Schedules Public and Hold Monthly Townhalls — While I can’t mandate this across Congress, I can lead by example. My schedule will always be made public because I believe in a transparent government. Voters should know who I am meeting with and when. I will also hold monthly town halls throughout the district to make sure everyone knows what government is doing and how we can fix it.

· Allow Tele-Voting — Members of Congress should be allowed to vote remotely, which will enable them to meet with constituents before key votes, instead of lobbyist, congressional leadership and special interests. Backroom deals have undermined families in the 39th district and across the country. We have the technology where Members of Congress can vote where they live — let’s use it so Congress is connected to communities. Californians would benefit from this, in particular, because our Members of congress would have more time in their districts to understand and be more responsive to the needs of our state.

· Cut the Size of Congressional Staff by a Third — As a former Chief of Staff, I saw firsthand how much we waste taxpayer dollars on oversized staffs who functionally do all the work for the Member of Congress. If you are in Congress, you should be competent enough to read legislation yourself and decide on how to vote. Some of the greatest legislative accomplishments in our nation’s history were driven by Members of Congress with very small staffs — just compare the staff sizes during the New Deal and Great Society to see the clear differences in governing. The growing bureaucracy in the legislative branch is only meant to make sure lobbyists can have their meetings taken, which, in turn, opens the door to campaign contributions. Congressional offices shouldn’t be a vehicle for fundraising. Staff should be focused on helping constituents, not serving lobbyists or doing the work for the Member of Congress.

· No Congressional Pensions — For decades, Congress has failed to ensure our seniors have a secure retirement and now Republicans are trying to cut Social Security. Congress is willing to cut Social Security because their retirement is already covered by the taxpayers. If Members of Congress were forced to rely on Social Security like the rest of us, you can bet that they will make sure the program is solvent.

I am a grassroots candidate running where I grew up — California’s 39th congressional district. I am the only non-self-funder running in a working and middle class district. Three of my opponents don’t even live in the district. If you can chip in, it will help us get our reform message out. Donate here. You can learn more about me here.

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