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Monday, May 07, 2012

Things Take Time And Money

For example, the 27th Amendment:

The 27th Amendment was originally proposed on September 25, 1789, as an article in the original Bill of Rights. It did not pass the required number of states with the articles we now know as the first ten amendments. It sat, unratified and with no expiration date, in constitutional limbo, for more than 80 years when Ohio ratified it to protest a congressional pay hike; no other states followed Ohio's lead, however. Again it languished, for more than 100 years.

In 1978, Wyoming ratified the amendment, but there was again, no follow-up by the remaining states. Then, in the early 1980's, Gregory Watson, an aide to a Texas legislator, took up the proposed amendment's cause. From 1983 to 1992, the requisite number of states ratified the amendment, and it was declared ratified on May 7, 1992 (74,003 days).

When introducing his collection of 12 amendments to the House during the First Congress, James Madison said:

There are several minor cases enumerated in my proposition, in which I wish also to see some alteration take place. That article which leaves it in the power of the Legislature to ascertain its own emolument, is one to which I allude. I do not believe this is a power which, in the ordinary course of Government, is likely to be abused. Perhaps of all the powers granted, it is least likely to abuse; but there is a seeming impropriety in leaving any set of men without control to put their hand into the public coffers, to take out money to put in their pockets; there is a seeming indecorum in such power, which leads me to propose a change. We have a guide to this alteration in several of the amendments which the different conventions have proposed. I have gone, therefore, so far as to fix it, that no law, varying the compensation shall operate until there is a change in the Legislature; in which case it cannot be for the particular benefit of those who are concerned in determining the value of the service.

During the Constitutional Convention, there was significant debate about compensation for Federal office holders: whether they should be paid at all, whether it should be by the Several States or central government, whether any stipend or salary should be fixed in the Constitution, etc.  Beginning on June 12, 1787:

The words "liberal compensation for members" being considd. Mr. MADISON moves to insert the words, "& fixt." He observed that it would be improper to leave the members of the Natl. legislature to be provided for by the State Legisls. because it would create an improper dependence; and to leave them to regulate their own wages, was an indecent thing, and might in time prove a dangerous one. He thought wheat or some other article of which the average price throughout a reasonable period preceding might be settled in some convenient mode, would form a proper standard.

Col. MASON seconded the motion; adding that it would be improper for other reasons to leave the wages to be regulated by the States. 1. [FN9] the different States would make different provision for their representatives, and an inequality would be felt among them, whereas he thought they ought to be in all respects equal. 2. [FN9] the parsimony of the States might reduce the provision so low that as had already happened in choosing delegates to Congress, the question would be not who were most fit to be chosen, but who were most willing to serve.

On the question for inserting the words "and fixt."

Massts. no. Cont. no. N. Y. ay. N. J. ay. Pa. ay. Del. ay. Md. ay. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. no. Geo. ay. [FN10]

Doctr. FRANKLYN said he approved of the amendment just made for rendering the salaries as fixed as possible; but disliked the word "liberal." he would prefer the word moderate if it was necessary to substitute any other. He remarked the tendency of abuses in every case, to grow of themselves when once begun, and related very pleasantly the progression in ecclesiastical benefices, from the first departure from the gratuitous provision for the Apostles, to the establishment of the papal system. The word "liberal" was struck out nem. con.


Mr. BUTLER & Mr. RUTLIDGE proposed that the members of the 2d. branch should be entitled to no salary or compensation for their services

On the question, [FN25] Massts. divd. Cont. ay. N. Y. no. N. J. no. P. no. Del. ay. Md. no. Va. no. N. C. no. S. C. ay. Geo. no. [FN27]

The discussion was picked up again on the 22nd--Nathaniel Gorham was fairly sanguine about the potentional for abuse by the Legislature in setting its own compensation--then on the 26th

General PINKNEY proposed "that no Salary should be allowed." As this [the Senatorial] branch was meant to represent the wealth of the Country, it ought to be composed of persons of wealth; and if no allowance was to be made the wealthy along would undertake the service. He moved to strike out the clause.

Doctr. FRANKLIN seconded the motion. He wished the Convention to stand fair with the people. There were in it a number of young men who would probably be of the Senate. If lucrative appointments should be recommended we might be chargeable with having carved out places for ourselves. On the question, Masts. Connecticut [FN8] Pa. Md. S. Carolina ay. [FN10] N. Y. N. J. Del. Virga. N. C. Geo. no. [FN11]

And finally on August 14th:

Mr. BROOM could see no danger in trusting the Genl. Legislature with the payment of themselves. The State Legislatures had this power, and no complaint had been made of it.

Mr. SHERMAN was not afraid that the Legislature would make their own wages too high; but too low, so that men ever so fit could not serve unless they were at the same time rich.


On the question for paying the Members of the Legislature out of the Natl. Treasury,

N. H. ay. Mas. no. Ct. ay. N. J. ay. Pa. ay. Del. ay. Md. ay. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. no. Geo. ay. [FN21]

A number of things about this one issue are of interest to me:

  1. The tension between State and Federal levels is readily apparent: if we made Congress' salaries dependent on State Legislatures, then they would lose their ability to put national interest above provincial (even in the more State-oriented Senate).
  2. There were advocates of an uncompensated Senate who wished to reserve the chamber for wealth and aristocracy.  Good thing THAT didn't happen.
  3. Conversely, some recognized that while we should rightfully be concerned that members could grant themselves too high a salary, a larger concern is that if it's not enough, then again one must be rich in the first place to hold office.

Of course, the Framers couldn't foresee all developments 200 years down the road.  These days Congress is chock full of wealthy people, but their salaries are mere rounding errors compared to all the other assets they (will) hold.  The problem is that it takes money to raise money, so even if you're well-compensated for your time in office, how can the average American--who needs to put food on their family and doesn't rub elbows with Wall Street donors--afford to run in the first place?

Ultimately this goes well beyond Citizens United: we not only need to get rid of the notion that money equals speech, but that private monies have any place in our electoral process.  After the 28th Amendment is ratified, mitigating some of the influence corporations and wealthy people enjoy, we might be able to pass a 29th Amendment that levels the playing field so any qualified person can have a shot at serving their nation.


Show a little "yuhyoohappy" during the NTodd Ain't Ann Romney Fundraiser *

May 7, 2012 in Constitution, Schmonstitution | Permalink


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