Article the First
“The number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative” – U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 2
2016 is a major election year, and both the Republicans and the Democrats are fielding candidates for the open Presidential seat. In fact, they are fielding them in droves; 16 candidates have declared so far on the Republican side, although two have already dropped out, and some 5-6 on the Democrat side, with the possibility that at least one more might throw his hat into the ring.
Political campaigns are fueled by money. Presidential campaigns require a lot of money. But even “lesser” races, for Senator or Representative, require what someone like me would consider “big bucks” in order to be successful. During the last election cycle in 2012, an “off year” election, House members raised an average of $1,689,580; in the Senate, that average rose to $10,467,451. Of course, the actual amount per campaign depends a lot on a lot of factors; who is running, do they have competition, is it a key seat, etc.
And if you want to run for President of the United States - better have deep pockets! The conservative estimate is that you will need at least $500 million to seek the highest office in the land. In 2008, President Obama raised and spent $750 million in his successful run for the office. This number includes money raised and spent in the primaries as well as in the actual election after he won his party’s nomination. Several of the candidates have stated that they expect to raise $1 billion in their effort to win the Presidency during this election cycle.
So where does that money come from?
Some of it comes from ordinary citizens like you and me, mostly in small donations. I don’t think I have ever given more than $25 to any political campaign in my life. But even if I wanted to give as much as I could, as an individual I can only give a total of $2,700 to a particular candidate per election. I could if I wished, also give an additional $30,800 to a national party committee, $10,000 to a state, district & local party committee, and $5,000 per year to a Political Action Committee (PAC) supporting my preferred candidate. And most folks, like me, come nowhere near maxing out those amounts.
While it may be that a campaign for an uncontested seat in a minor Congressional district might be able to be funded on individual donations, it is obvious that a Presidential bid cannot; and in truth, pretty much every campaign seeks and will obtain funding from sources other than individual donations. The entire process is extremely convoluted and the rules are complex. But the bottom line is that lots of money is funneled to campaigns by businesses and wealthy individuals by various means. Collectively, these are referred to as “special interest groups.”
You have probably heard the term “super PAC” bandied about. If you are a Democrat, you have likely heard of the “evil” Koch Brothers, who, according to that side, pretty much single-handedly elect the Republicans of their choice by buying the elections using money from the various super PACs they run. If you are a Republican, the “evil” broker you are likely familiar with is George Soros, who, aside from being the evil billionaire kingmaker like the Koch’s, also carries the cachet of being a foreign national as well.
Because campaigns require so much money, and because most of that does not come from individuals, the “special interests” have become an increasingly important factor in national elections, based on the money they can bring to the table. While it is true that it is the individual who, with their vote, decides the election, it is the money that determines whether or not a particular candidate can even come to the table and, once there, how long they can remain. You may be the best candidate in the race – but if the public never hears your message, or you are drowned out by the opposing side, it will make little difference in the end.
So when you send your letter to your representative demanding attention to your problem, or a lobbyist for a PAC stops by his or her door, which do you think he pays more attention to? The answer is of course, a bit more complicated, but it boils down to that at least in the public perception. And as we are frequently told, in many cases perception is reality.
This may seem to be a problem of money, and on the surface it is. But deep down it is fundamentally a problem of representation. That lobbyist represents more dollars than you do – and he or she always will; that’s the way the rules are written. But ultimately, elections are won with votes – which you and others like you represent. The lobbyist doesn’t represent votes – he represents the means to obtain those votes. The actual votes still rest with the people who cast them.
And that representation, what you represent as an individual to that representative, has been horribly diluted by the fact that each representative is representing not 30,000 people as originally envisioned, but instead, 805,000 people! This year you and your vote represent just 1/805,000th of the total votes in your district. And every year, the number of people represented increases, and your influence continues to wane.
Did you ever wonder why we have 435 members of the House of Representatives, also known as congressmen or congresswomen, or as I like to refer to them, “congresscritters?” Article 1, Section 2 of the US Constitution says the number “shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand,” establishing an upper limit, but if we actually had one for every thirty thousand, we would today have 10,833 of them scurrying about! Congress recognized this problem eventually, and on August 8, 1911, fixed the maximum number of representatives at 435, where it has stayed since 1913 when Public Law 62-5 took effect.
There is nothing magical about the number 435; we could change it anytime we choose; all we would need to do is change Public Law 62-5. And we should change it, because limiting the number to 435 for the past 102 years, while our population continued to climb has not only diluted our individual ability to influence our elected representatives, but ensures that as our population continues to climb, our already vanishingly small influence will continue to decline until it vanishes completely – if it hasn’t done so already, particularly in the larger states.
In 2004, I wrote an article that made the case as to why we need to increase the size of Congress. I am not going to take time to regurgitate that argument here. Just go back and read that article. Instead I am going to focus on how we might go about doing that, and why the approach I am going to propose might be the best idea for doing so.
This is not the first time this has come up in the history of our country, and it might just shock you to discover that others foresaw this early on and came up with a solution.
Back in September 25, 1789, a package of 12 amendments to the United States Constitution were approved by the first Congress and sent to the state legislatures for ratification. Ten of these articles were ratified in 1791, and became known, collectively, as the Bill of Rights. One of those amendments, which was not part of the Bill of Rights, later became the 27th Amendment to the Constitution on 7 May 1992, following ratification by the state of Michigan, which became the 38th state to ratify the amendment, a whopping 202 years, seven months, and 12 days after it was sent to the state legislatures for ratification!
You may have noticed that 12 amendments were sent out, 11 were ratified, leaving one amendment still “in the queue” as it were. So what is that one outstanding amendment awaiting ratification?
Interestingly, that amendment is known as the Congressional Apportionment Amendment, also known as Article the First, because it was the first amendment in the original package of 12 that was sent to the states for ratification. Its purpose was to establish a formula for determining the size of the House of Representatives, and how the representatives were to be apportioned following the constitutionally mandated census every 10 years. The amendment reads as follows:
“After the first enumeration required by the first article of the Constitution, there shall be one Representative for every thirty thousand, until the number shall amount to one hundred, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall be not less than one hundred Representatives, nor less than one Representative for every forty thousand persons, until the number of Representatives shall amount to two hundred; after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall not be less than two hundred Representatives, nor more than one Representative for every fifty thousand persons.”
When the amendment was first proposed, it would have only taken 10 states ratifying it to make it part of the Constitution. However, Vermont joined the Union on 4 March 1791, raising the total to 11. Vermont ratified it on 3 November 1791, joining New Jersey, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania which had already done so. Virginia followed suit on 15 December, leaving it one short. Then Kentucky joined the Union on 1 June 1792, raising the number needed to 12.
Kentucky quickly ratified it on 24 Jun 1792 however, once again leaving the amendment one short. No additional states have ratified it since. An additional 27 states are needed to make this amendment part of our constitution.
Of course, ratifying it as it now stands would cause quite a conundrum. As it currently reads, we would need to reapportion based on 1 Representative for every 50,000 population. That would give us a House of Representatives comprised of 6,500 members, growing at a rate of 1 Representative for every 50,000 new citizens, determined at the end of each Census. Fortunately, the amendment at least implied a formula, which if carried out, would work now and for the foreseeable future. That formula is:
0-100 representatives for each 30,000 persons
100-200 representatives for each 40,000 persons
200-300 representatives for each 50,000 persons
And so on…
Or put another way, every time we hit the current upper limit, defined in even multiples of 100, we recalculate the number of representatives using the previous upper limit as a floor, and increasing the representation ratio by 10,000.
Had the amendment been ratified, it would have resulted in a House of Representatives in 1803 (the Eighth United States Congress) of 132 members, based on the 1800 census results of 5,308,483 citizens, as the number of representatives would have passed the 100 mark, triggering the 1 in 40,000 representation, vice 1 in 30,000. In actuality, as the amendment was not ratified by the requisite number of states, it contained 141 members.
If we project the formula out, based on our current population of 309 million as of the 2010 census, the U.S. House of Representatives would contain 1626 members, with each member representing 190,000 persons. This is still quite a bit more than the founder’s originally envisioned – but certainly better than the 805,000 persons each one represents today.
Certainly, after the next census, we would most likely jump a notch to 200,000 per Representative, which would hold us up to a population of 360 million, at which time we would jump to 210,000 per representative, and so on. We would need more than 1 billion American citizens before the number of members of the house cracked the 3100 mark, at a representation of 330,000 Americans per Representative, still way below the current figure of 805,000!
In fact, by this formula, we would need a population of between 6.2 and 6.4 billion, nearly the current population of the planet, before we achieved the representation ration we now ”enjoy,” at which time we would have between 7800 and 7900 representatives in Congress.
So suppose we did this; suppose we recalled “Article the First”, rewickered it to contain the formula specified above, rather than simply the first couple of iterations, and then ratified it by the requisite 38 states. We would then have a continuing mechanism for realigning our House of Representatives to at least try and keep it representative of the individual, certainly better than what we have now.
It would at least be an interesting proposition to surface at one of the Article V conventions being bandied about for introducing amendments to the US Constitution. Some mechanism is needed. It is truly amazing that a clear need, seen only two years after ratification, before the problem even existed and which is so blindingly obvious now 226 years down the road, is still not perceived as a problem to the majority of the population who goes merrily on their way, and keep wondering why the Congress fails to act in their behalf.
This would have been much easier to fix originally, when it lagged by only one state. It is going to be very hard to fix now, as certainly there is no incentive for the special interests to do so. It is, after all, much harder to scratch the backs of 1626 congresscritters, vice the current 435, particularly when the voice of the people will be much louder in their ears than it is now; much more expensive as well.
Still, the solution remains obvious. Whether by this mechanism or some other, we must increase the number of Representatives substantially, to increase the representation ratio, increasing the voice of the people and decreasing the voice of the “special interests.” To not do so is to lose our Representative Republic as envisioned by our founders from one that represents the individual to one that increasingly does not. We have tried “fixing” the problem from the money side and all we have done is to make the problem worse.
The problem is not the money – at least not entirely. The problem is the representation ratio.