It’s easier to complain about politicians being bought off by lobbyists and campaign donors than it is to do anything about it. In fact, doing something about the pernicious influences in politics comes down to just a few cost-free actions.
In representative government, politicians represent the people that contact them with their views. If only lobbyists and campaign donors contact them, don’t be surprised if that is who will be represented. However, politicians do have dedicated resources in place to help them represent their voters.
Take the House of Representatives in the U.S. These people represent very large numbers of voters. They have large numbers of staff, in local offices and in the capitol, and they will take steps to ensure that every time a constituent contacts them, the representative knows about it. Constituent management software (e.g.) is used to track and categorise the contacts that are made with the office. At the end of each day, the representative can get a breakdown of phone calls and emails urging a yes vote on a bill or a no vote on a bill, and whether the calls are from their own constituents or out of state. It isn’t quite direct democracy, but the idea that representative democracy is not responsive democracy is just obviously wrong.
So what sort of numbers are we talking about? Apparently the climate bill, now moving through the U.S. Senate, is generating a lot of constituent contact. Joe Romm at ClimateProgress has heard that call loads of 100-200 a day are coming in that oppose a climate and clean energy bill. Opponents to the bill in Congress matched the number of calls from supporters of the bill, although most of the opponent’s calls came from out of state.
Phone calls, emails, and letters help politicians gauge public support and provide political cover. Senator Cardin’s chief energy policy advisor had this to say:
“If you want a stronger climate bill, we need to hear from you. Send us your input.”
There’s no shortage of lobbyists waiting to speak to politicians. But politicians also want to hear from their constituents, and they will give a high priority to what their constituents have to say.