During a Thursday event at the National Press Club four former members of Congress pushed for the creation of a "citizen cabinet" that would serve as a transparent and scientifically representative political advisory board.
The ex-politicians want Congress to establish a "National Academy for Public Consultation," which would solicit the views of 275 residents from each congressional district. In total, nearly 120,000 Americans would be regularly polled on policy issues under official consideration.
Steven Kull, director of Voice Of the People, the new group spearheading the pitch, said he's "found a lot of interest" in Congress, but is "not ready to announce who will be the sponsor" of legislation to have the plan see the light of day.
If enacted, the "citizen cabinet" members would work for free to evaluate various policy issues. Most of their work would be done online. Documents supplied to the deputized policy advisers, and their aggregated votes, would be posted online.
"As we work to get Congress to act on this larger vision," Kull said, sample district-level groups will be set up. The campaign, he said, is being funded by various foundations and individual donors.
Former Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., praised the idea as a possible remedy to "the crescendo of noise" coming from "screaming" pundits and the "incessant shouting from puffed up politicians."
"The noise of democracy is not the right noise to guide our country," Dorgan said, denouncing "trumped up polling [and] phony grass-roots campaigns."
Dorgan said he's not concerned that this highly accurate and publicly available information on constituent views might actually increase partisanship and – contrary to its goal – undermine middle-of-the-road politicians.
The retired three-term senator, who represented a conservative state, admitted he opposed some popular policy positions, such as constitutional amendments to ban flag burning and same-sex marriage, because lawmakers shouldn't "exactly" reflect the will of voters.
If a majority of voters hold misguided views, Dorgan said, that's an opportunity to "teach and lead."
Former Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., also endorsed the proposal. Castle lost his 2010 Senate bid – and ended his three-decade political career – when he was defeated by boisterous conservative activist Christine O'Donnell in the race's GOP primary.
"Right now members of Congress hear mostly from organized interests that don't reflect the will of the people as a whole," Castle said. "If we had a citizen cabinet it would raise the quality of public discourse."
According to Castle, "there is media bias [and] people tend to follow their own ilk," but participants would benefit from "a more balanced presentation."
High-quality briefings to participants – with documents ideally drafted by congressional staffers and executive branch representatives – would cut down on "passions and disinformation," Castle said, as well as "off the cuff opinions" not based on "correct information."
"Practically all members of Congress" consulted by Voice Of the People "seem to be all for this," he said.
Former Rep. Martin Frost, D-Texas, said "members of Congress aren't computers" and would retain their autonomy to vote their consciences.
But Frost said it's necessary for congressmen to have "real views" from the public.
"I have a right-wing cousin in Texas [who sends emails with] way, way incorrect" information, Frost said. "Sometimes I would ask my staff to research [the factual inaccuracies]," he said, a service that would similarly be offered to "citizen cabinet" members.