As I wrote last week, Brad Keithley, an Anchorage-based politically active lawyer and consultant, sent out a questionnaire to candidates, testing their fiscally conservative creds. For a few years now, Keithley has been focused on the state’s budget problems. He was toying at taking a run for governor, but decided against it. However, he still wants to make a difference. He has said that he is willing to put up to $200,000 of his own money trying to elect candidates who are serious about cutting the budget. To that end, he sent all the candidates that questionnaire. He’ll use those answers, along with the results of a poll that he commissioned, to choose the candidates.
One of the 11 questions is the following about a pledge: “Will you publicly commit prior to the election not to join any legislative caucus that conditions your membership upon your support of and vote for whatever budget is sent to the floor by the Finance Committee?”
Keithley hasn’t said if an affirmative answer is requisite for his support. It is, however, implied.
Like many of the plethora of pledges, and reforms that follow pledges, on the surface, this one sounds like a good, noble one.
But like all things that sound good and noble, the results often backfire. Remember how great earmark reform sounded? It was the anti-government tea party influence that drove that one. What’s happened since? The money is still being spent. But it’s now going to government agencies. What earmark reform has done—which should make any tea partier spurt out her tea–is to empower thousands of bureaucrats, rather than elected officials, to decide which projects get funded.
No new tax pledges? Think the government shutdown that caused a $24 billion hit to the U.S. economy. Think a Congress run amuck. Think a Congress that hasn’t passed a real budget in five years. Think Ted Cruz.
Anti-ObamaCare pledges. Gun pledges. Immigration pledges. Social Security pledges. What these pledges often do is to lock elected officials into rigid positions and keep them from making the kind of open-minded decisions that we elect them to make. The national good-government group, No Labels. co-chaired by former presidential candidate Jon Hunstman, makes the case that politicians shouldn’t sign any pledges at all:
These types of pledges have proliferated in recent years as a way for powerful interest groups to control members of Congress, and they’ve created a perverse dynamic in Washington. Members of Congress who stick to these rigid pledges are usually rewarded with more campaign cash and party support. Members willing to make tough decisions and think for themselves are punished with attack ads and primary challenges.
Closer to home, campaign finance reform, pushed in large part by Democrats, has hurt that party’s fundraising ability more than it has Republicans, say nothing of empowering the bureaucrats at APOC with prosecutorial authority.
Caucus reform, is, perhaps, a different animal. But even that kind of reform has backfired.
As David Frum in the Atlantic Month writes:
In short, in the name of “reform,” Americans over the past half century have weakened political authority. Instead of yielding more accountability, however, these reforms have yielded more lobbying, more expense, more delay, and more indecision…
And more chaos.
What I see happening in Alaska, is that some candidates will sign the pledge, and others, who perhaps are not as vulnerable, won’t. The ones who won’t will then likely make deals with the ones who will.
The result? If enough sign the pledge, what could happen is more backroom decision making. More games and less transparency, and more of the kind of chaos and dysfunction that we see in D.C., particularly since earmark and other reforms have party and caucus discipline on the run.
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