It's not the money, it's the members.
Jeb Hensarling is my Congressman. He doesn’t know me. I’ve called his office more than once and have attended a meet and greet held for him. He still couldn’t pick me out of a line-up. The times I’ve called his office I spoke with a pleasant woman named… Betty? Barbara? I’m bad at names. But, I could pick Betty/Barbara out of a line-up. Betty/Barbara may be a wonderful human being, but she isn’t Congressman Hensarling. At the meet and greet I couldn’t get close enough to the Congressman to shake his hand, let alone ask him a question. Not because of the crowd so much as because of his staff – I’m neither a donor nor a member of the media, so I have little, if any, standing in things political. I do not blame the Congressman for this lack of access. I blame the system: How can one individual be expected to know almost one million people. And, if he doesn’t know the people, how can he effectively represent the people? The answer, of course, is he can’t. Then again, because of the way the system is set-up, he doesn’t need to.
A brief history review may help explain.
The Founding Parents of the United States faced a dilemma while contemplating the form of government to bestow upon the new nation: some – mostly from the less populated states – wanted a federal government based on a confederation of the states, where each state was equally represented. Others – mostly from the more populated states – wanted a federal government based on the will of the people. A compromise gave us both: the Senate, for those who favored a government representative of the States, and the House, for those who favored a government representative of the people (note to Tea Party Republicans: sometimes compromise is good.) In the Senate each state received two Senators, making New York, Virginia, Delaware, and the rest equals. In the House things are different. House membership is based on the population of the state at the time of a national census (every ten years), the minimum ratio of persons to representatives being 30,000:1; the caveat being that each state gets at least one representative. The result is the more populated states having more clout in the House than do the less populated states. The 30,000:1 ratio was considered so large by the politicians of the time that the southern states, fearing that the more populated northern and mid-Atlantic states, of which mighty Virginia was a part, would so totally dominate the new government they insisted on counting as part of the population the slaves residing within their states, thus providing them more Representatives. Those opposed to the institution of slavery balked at the idea of counting anyone who in the eyes of the states was merely chattle. In order to get the Southern States to stay the course, the now infamous – and over-ridden by the 14th Amendment – 3/5 Compromise was installed in Article I, section 2 of the Constitution. Many railed against the document, but it was ratified nevertheless, and the new Republic had a Constitution on which to operate (note to Tea Party Republicans: sometimes compromise is necessary). Notice that the Constitution limits the number of Senators to twice the number of states, yet the same document places no limit on the number of Representatives in the House. So, why are there only 435 House members today? In a word: Congress.
The Founders’ clearly understood, perhaps intended, that the House of Representatives would grow as the population of the country grew. And this it did: from the original number of 105 Representatives in April 1792 (a ratio of one Representative per 34,436 persons) until 1910, when by rule, the House voted to limit its number to 435 (a ratio of one Representative per 212,019). Why 435? Why not 450? Or, 500? Congress didn’t want to allocate more money to buy more furniture, let alone build more offices. So, since 1910, contrary to what the Founders expected, maybe intended, the ratio of Representative to persons has increased every year that saw an increase in birthrate or immigration or both. Today the ratio of Representative to person is 1:716,303.
With so many people to represent one might expect our Congressmen (and women) to work, work, work at being representative. Actually: not so much. With that many constituents, representation falls by the wayside, replaced by the need to procure more and more votes to stay in office, which leads to an increased effort towards fund-raising. The more votes you need to win an election, the more money you need to spend. A smaller constituency requires smaller outlays of cash. Compare the money spent on local school board races, or any race where fewer votes are required to win, to that money spent on Congressional races. Except for the largest of cities, where more votes are required to win a council seat than are required to win a Congressional one, less money is spent on the office requiring fewer votes to win. For this reason, House members, and those who want to be House members, spend an inordinate amount of their time raising money. House members need to raise millions for their campaigns. What happens to our representation? It’s delegated to the staff. A member of the First Congress, one of the 105 who represented an average of 34,000 people, often had no staff. Or, if they did, it was their son or nephew, or the son or nephew of an acquaintance or business associate. Today, each Representative may hire up to eighteen (18) staff members, not counting the staff for the Select Committee, the twenty-one Congressional committees, and the twenty standing committees.
It takes millions of dollars to win and keep a Congressional seat. Millions more is spent on the staff necessary to help a Representative to their job. And then there is millions on top of these millions spent lobbying, that is to say, buying, the 435 members of the House of Representatives. Our system is in need of repair, but what’s a Representative to do? The answer to this dilemma is not limiting money: money is only a symptom of the much larger problem. The solution rests, not in the number “millions”, but rather in the number “435”. The solution is to return to a more realistic and effective ratio of Representative to people. Since we can’t realistically decrease those who are represented, the people of the United States, it follows we must increase those who do the representing. We must make the House bigger. Much bigger. We must make the House too big to buy.
In the installment(s) to follow, I’ll offer the math behind the madness, a few rebuttals to anticipated objections, and probable outcomes of building a bigger House.