The U.S. House of Representatives isn't really representative anymore - and neither is the Senate, a BYU political science professor told Congress Thursday.
David Magleby said that is because of the growing role of special interest groups in financing elections and in supplementing the income of members of Congress through speech fees called honorariums."Members of both houses increasingly face the reality that they must represent two constituencies - those who elect them and those who finance their campaigns," Magleby told the Senate Rules and Administration Committee.
Magleby said the way campaigns are financed largely by special interest groups has resulted in elections that usually are not competitive.
"Under the most expansive definition of a `competitive' seat - the winner getting 59 percent (of the vote) or less - only 15 percent were competitive in 1988 down from 32 percent in 1980 and 47 percent in 1960."
He said most money for House races now comes from political action committees - but PACs invest most of their money with incumbents, giving little to challengers.
Such contributions allow incumbents to build massive war chests that carry over from election to election and make challenges by anyone except maybe millionaires unlikely.
Magleby said PAC contributions plus honorariums are contributing to "an ethical cloud" hanging over Congress.
"Direct cash payments to incumbents, in the form of honoraria, and indirect help to many of these same incumbents in the form of contributions to their campaigns, raises ethical issues of `buying' influence," he said.
Magleby said Congress could attack the problems slowly over time by taking small steps such as abolishing honorariums and allowing parties to contribute more to campaigns to help reduce PAC influence. Or it could make sweeping, comprehensive changes such as allowing partial public financing of campaigns and setting campaign limits to help ensure competition.
He said the goal of reform should not be to "exclude interests or groups but rather to balance them against other more general interests" of ensuring true representation of the people.