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KOUTOULAS: Yes, it’s broken but we can fix it

Recently, I’ve written about the problems Americans face with our government, elections, politics and social media. Fair warning: I’m writing about it again today.

If you think you’ve heard it all and are tempted to stop reading, I implore you to stick with me. This column is different.

This week I realized something evident to many people, but not previously talked about much. And I read about a viable solution that stands a decent shot at getting done.

But first, the one undeniable fact at the root of nearly every evil associated with governing this big nation.

Corruption is legal in America.

Not only that, but the system actually thrives on corruption.

Recently, I learned about an organization called RepresentUs. At the heart of this organization is a Princeton study conducted by Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page in 2014. The study sought to answer the question, “Does the government represent the people?”

The conclusion? Public opinion has a “near-zero” impact on U.S. law.

Gilens & Page found that the number of Americans supporting or not supporting a bill has no impact on the likelihood that Congress will make it law.

According to the study’s authors, “The preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”

This might not come as a shock to most Americans, but remember this is an academic study, not some TV pundit or local newspaper columnist making a claim. The study is based on statistical evidence rooted in historical data.

According to RepresentUs, “In the last five years alone, the 200 most politically active companies in the US spent $5.8 billion influencing our government with lobbying and campaign contributions. Those same companies got $4.4 trillion in taxpayer support — earning a return of 750 times their investment.”

Your government does not represent you, unless “you” are a powerful corporation!

If you’re still with me, you’re probably saying to yourself, “Yeah, everybody knows this is true. But what can I do? I’m just one person, and after all, you just pointed out that they won’t listen to me. So it’s pointless to even try.”

I thought the same thing. We may be wrong.

RepresentUs has a plan, and I think it’s a darn good one. Broadly speaking, the idea has two phases.

First, a set of reforms was crafted to fix the problems with corruption. These reforms were put into a model act called the American Anti-Corruption Act, which includes three main pillars.

— Stop political bribery by making it illegal for lobbyists to lobby a politician and donate to their campaign. You can lobby, or you can donate, but you can’t do both.

— End secret money, so Americans know who is buying political power.

— Fix our broken elections so the people, not the political establishment, are the ones in control.

A problem with this approach is evident. The current members of Congress (who were elected under the corrupt system) are about as likely to take up this bill as John Calipari would be to support outlawing basketball. It ain’t happening.

Which brings us to phase two: Go around Congress.

This, in my opinion, is the real genius move by RepresentUs. They are establishing grass-roots movements in communities all across America. Consisting of people from all points on the political spectrum, these movements are getting anti-corruption laws passed in cities and states.

Since 2008, over 23 such laws have gotten passed in various localities, thanks to these groups.

Did you catch the part about “people from all points on the political spectrum”? It’s true: this is one issue that unites all of us who aren’t among the wealthiest in America. Conservatives, moderates, and progressives overwhelmingly support these measures.

But why focus on cities and states when it will take a national measure to ultimately fix the problem? Because successful movements in the past have taken this very same approach. The women’s suffrage movement, inter-racial marriage, and marriage equality are three examples where a state-by-state movement eventually forced action at the federal level.

It’s a proven strategy.

One thing I noted while perusing the RepresentUs website is that Kentucky is conspicuously absent from among states where legislative reforms have occurred. I’d love to see some folks from Central Kentucky change that.

I’ve already signed up to keep abreast of updates and perhaps volunteer and help organize some folks in our area. More information on how you can join or learn more about this exciting movement can be found at www.represent.us.

“We the people” can do this.

Pete Koutoulas is an IT professional working in Lexington. He and his wife have resided in Winchester since 2015. Pete can be reached at pete@koutoulas.me or follow him on Facebook at fb.me/PeteTheSun.