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Ed Crane is the founder and president of the Cato Institute. Under his leadership, the Cato Institute has grown to become one of the nation's most prominent public policy research[…]

The Cato Institute CEO says the problem in Washington is we have “an adverse selection process for who runs for Congress.”

Edward Crane:  Oh, the power structure in Washington is not individuals.  It’s a system.  It is a system that is immune to criticism.  I mean, the effort on the part of people like Jeff Flake and Tom Coburn to get rid of earmarks is heroic but utterly futile.  And the bridge to nowhere-- I mean, these people think that they can do whatever they want to.  And one of the problems with the system we have, as it exists, in my view, is that under the current system, you have an adverse selection process for who runs for Congress.  And there are people who want to be professional politicians, who want to run others’ lives, who want the power of being a politician, and that’s why we need term limits.  But it is not some kind of deal where corporate America runs Washington or left wingers do or right wingers do.  It is just the center power, and it stays that way and will until there’s some radical change in the way we operate our politics in this country.

Question: How do you encourage the right people to run for public office?

Edward Crane:  Well, the people are there.  They’re most entrepreneurs, but the way to do it is to have term limits, because a lot of smart people look at the process of getting elected and say, “You know, even if I did get elected, I’m going to have be under the control of professional politicians, and my influence is going to be negligible.”  Whereas, if you had a citizen Congress, particularly in the House of Representatives, a lot more people would find that attractive.  And of course, there would be a lot more open seats, if you had six-year limits, three terms.  There would be a lot of open seats every election.  And then the other thing is to get rid of the contribution limits, and then you’d find people-- a friend of mine, Tim Penny, was I think a ten-year congressman from Minnesota.  And he was going to run for the Senate for Minnesota after he stepped down voluntarily.  And Tim was ahead in the polls against the Democrats in the primary and in any test against Republicans in the general election he was going to win.  And he dropped out, and I ran into him, and I said, “Tim, why did you do that?”  And he said, “You know, Ed, I was looking at 12 months of eight to 10 hours a day asking people for $1,000, and I just didn’t want to do that.  I didn’t want to take that time away from my family.  I found it demeaning.”  Whereas, if 10 people could have gone in and say, “We’ll each give you $250,000, and your campaign is off and running,” I’m sure he would have run.  And we’d have a good guy -- Tim Penny was terrific -- in the U.S Senate.  So I think the Campaign Finance Laws and the lack of term limits are the problem that we have in getting better people running for Congress.

Question: Do we need to regulate political donations?

Edward Crane:  I think that the large contributions give people more choices.  As long as you know this is Bill Gates’ candidate, well you can say, “I’m not going to vote for Bill Gates’ candidate,” or George Sorrells’ candidate.  And that’s disclosure, but money is a proxy for information.  And something like 80 percent of Americans don’t know the name of their congressman.  And the campaign finance reformers are constantly saying there’s too much money in politics.  Well, if people don’t even know the name of their congressman, maybe there’s not enough money in politics.  But certainly, challengers have an opportunity when there’s money.  And there’s a big vested interest on the part of incumbents to say, “You know what?  Money is corrupting, so we’re not going to let any money in it,” because the best amount of money for a campaign for an incumbent is zero, because the incumbent’s always going to win.  And particularly, if you want a citizen legislator, if you want somebody who is just a successful person, a teacher, a doctor, a businessman, and he has no political history; he has no mailing list, but he’s a good, smart person with good ethical standards, and he wants to run, he has no chance with these campaign finance laws.  So it’s very inhibiting to a vibrant and viable democracy.

Question: Can Libertarians support term limits?

Edward Crane:  The Constitution of the United States is nothing but a series of constraints on untrammeled democracy.  I mean, we’re not a majoritarian society.  We’re not set up to be a majoritarian society, whether there are 650 or 700,000 in each congressional district.  The idea that there is only one person who can represent that district is ludicrous.  I think it’s a political prophylactic. It’s a way of saying we’re not going to allow our system to be corrupted by people who are into power.  Now, I’m open to no term limits on the Senate, because you can’t gerrymander the Senate to begin with.  The whole state gets to vote, and there’s an argument that some people are pretty wise, and they probably should stay in the Senate.  But the House of Representatives is supposed to be representative.  Representative is supposed to be an adjective, not a noun.  And I think term limits is fully consistent with the libertarian worldview.