WASHINGTON–Those political antennae known as Senators and Representatives are mostly back home in their districts presumably sounding out the voters for their opinions. Until Congress reconvenes on January 21, the members of this leaderless branch of government will be sampling public opinion. Here are a few questions to put to your Congressional representative if you are shaking hands, talking on the phone or writing him a letter:
1. Why don’t you provide, on request, your voting record in Committees and on the Senate or House floor to citizens who want this up-to-date information?
2. What are you going to do to persuade your fellow legislators to pass a strong campaign finance reform bill early next year to get private money out of buying elections?
3. How vigorously are you going to fight against skyrocketing fuel prices and weaker pollution standards which the White House is encouraging instead of its cracking down hard on industrial and commercial waste of fuel and electricity?
4. Specifically where do you stand on tax reform and how much time and energy are you going to devote to this cause during the next year?
5. Since the House Judiciary Committee has started an impeachment investigation, where do you, as a member of the House, stand on recommending that the Senate provide the President with a fair trial?
6. What five issues do you think it is most important for us to help you on during 1974 and how can we go about doing it step-by-step?
7. Are you going to press the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy to start its long delayed citizen hearings on nuclear power plant dangers?
8. Are you going to demand that the government enforce existing antitrust laws against collusive industries and monopolistic practices that are feeding a runaway inflation and overpowering consumers?
9. Where do you stand on the Consumer Protection Agency bill? Do you favor the weak version sponsored by anti-consumerist Congressman Chet Holifield or the strong version sponsored by Congressmen Moss, Rosenthal, W.S. Moorhead and Fascell?
When we started our study of Congress in 1971, we believed that very little information was reaching voters about exactly what their legislators were doing. What we found was even worse. For while many voters wanted more information on a day to day basis, all they received were largely puff newsletters and press releases from the Congressional member’s office.
Since our Congress Project’s profiles–20 to 40 pages on each member of Congress standing for the last election—were released and placed in hundreds of libraries around the country, interested citizens were able to learn more about how few hard facts they were receiving directly from their Senator oRepresentative. Yet never has there been a better time for voters to marshall a stronger case to reform and make more responsive their Congress. This paradox is explained by the historical truth that as crises increase and political institutions fail to respond, the opportunity for solid, constructive change and heightened citizen interest can converge toward effective action.
The legislative reform movement should not neglect state legislatures, either. Toby Moffett, the Director of the Connecticut Citizen Action Group, has just published a book showing how CCAG examined every Connecticut state legislator’s record and got this information to the people on a shoestring budget. The book is titled “Nobody’s Business: The Political Intruder’s Guide to Everyone’s State Legislature” (Chatham Press, Riverside, Connecticut). We support CCAG’s efforts and urge you to learn from their experience to start similar projects in your state.