DUCK SOUP: No Net Gain For Elected Officials

No net gain? In June a Western North Carolina congressman released a financial disclosure statement which indicated he had tripled his personal fortune in the past couple of years in office. While some folks might have been surprised that he is worth a cool $12 million today, the news itself is old hat. We are long accustomed to seeing elected officials get rich or richer. Not that there is necessarily any chicanery going on, mind you. We just seem to elect people who are very good with money.When Bill Clinton was governor of Arkansas, Hillary Rodham Clinton had a streak of beginner's luck in commodity trading. And it turns out that Mrs. Clinton's arch nemesis in the Senate, Alfonse D'Amato, had similar good fortune with a one day bonanza in the stock market -- this while he was chairman of the Senate committee charged with regulating Wall Street. It's amazing how financial blessings just seem to shower down on those in power: Pennies from heaven, I suppose.I wouldn't want to be the one to rain on their parades, but I have stumbled on a better idea: No net gain. Just imagine what it would mean if the holders of full time elected office were required to show no net gain in personal worth during their terms. Perhaps we could let them keep pace with inflation so they didn't lose ground either. Anything over and above that increase would have to be donated to charity or used to pay down the national debt. Most Senators and Congressmen and Governors and Presidents are at great pains to describe themselves as public servants. Way back in 1835 Senator John C. Calhoun told his cohorts, "The very essence of a free government consists in considering offices as public trusts." You hear that idea repeated all the time. We could let them put their claims on the line. If they want to take time out of their successful and exciting lives to serve us, they should be willing to ignore personal profit during that service. It's not as if they aren't very well paid for their efforts, congressional, gubernatorial and presidential wages are six figures, with expense accounts and paid staff to boot. There would no longer be any hint of indiscretion because of their lucky financial dealings, no question about the legitimacy of their personal wealth. And while sleazy corporations and lobbyists could still pay off compliant legislators after they were out of office, at least the incentive would be less. Why reward someone who can no longer carry your water? This could be better than term limits, too. Honest citizens who wanted to make a difference would take time out to run for office but return to their real lives after a term or two. Dishonest officials expecting to collect post-term I.O.U.s might want to quit sooner rather than later, to cash in on their blood money while they are young enough to enjoy it.While we're housecleaning we could follow the British example and ban political advertising too. In Britain television provides equal time for candidates to explain their positions, or for debates. Newspapers cover elections as civic affairs, not Madison Avenue horse races. The media will kick and scream at being denied all that ad revenue, but once the dust settles we would see a profound change in the way our government works. The money connection is the most sizable loose screw in our modern electoral system. Real reform is simple -- a few turns with a screwdriver and a whole passel of loopholes would disappear. Those who claim it is complicated are only trying to preserve their pipeline to big bucks while they pretend to work for change. Ask the candidates for high office if they might be willing to serve the country instead of just serving themselves.

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