Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Gutting Campaign Finance

The cost of getting elected has grown so large that our representatives are stuck with spending a considerable amount of time raising campaign funds. In order to do this, they are forced to go to where the money is; Political Action Committees, and Lobbyists. When we, as citizens, desire Congress to take a particular action, we use our special interest group to represent us. The special interest group will find out which members of Congress have the power to accomplish the ends, and then start letter writing campaigns and make campaign contributions to the appropriate committee members. This process results in the most flush special interest groups getting their way.

This reliance on special interest groups (lobbys) is the reason that we will never see the change that
either parties is looking to implement. Obamacare is a great example of this. While America’s Health Insurance Plans Association sent over $83 million to the Chamber of Commerce to fight Obamacare, they were busy helping write the bill that actually became law. They’ve whipped up a frenzy of hatred in people that don’t know much about the funding of health care, while at the same time have reaped huge profits since the law was passed. The well funded fight by the banks to gut the new financial regulations, (which they again helped to write), shows what well funded representation can provide. In both these cases, the group of people who are funding the PAC’s stand to lose their livelihood or at the very least lose substantial amounts of money. The people who benefit from the proposals will stand to gain a much smaller benefit, that they very often don’t fully understand, even though their numbers are much greater than the PAC contributors. Those in the tax industry understand this when they say that tax simplification always makes taxes more complicated. Once a tax benefit has been granted a special interest is created. That special interest will fight tooth and nail to keep any benefit they have even when the reasons for the benefit are long gone. Witness the subsidies the federal government gives to the oil companies, corporate farmers, and airwave users.

Of real concern is the type of person this system is attractive to. Many we see in the political arena are clearly motivated more by the desire to lead then the desire too better the lives of those that are being led. Many of our best leaders never saw themselves in a leadership position until it was thrust upon them. These people will never be involved in our political process as long as the chief requirement of a candidate is to be able to raise sufficient funds to run a campaign.

Lobby’s can provide valuable service to the country in the form of expert testimony about their industries. When they are providing funds to candidates, their purpose has been corrupted while their incomes have sky rocketed. Our political parties also have seen this corrupting influence. They serve a useful purpose in Congress by being able to define and support bills before Congress. When the party holds the purse strings to campaigns, the local candidates are forced into supporting the national line of thinking even if contrary to what’s best locally.

Our Founding Fathers provided us with a Constitution that has each House member representing an equal number of neighboring citizens, and a Senate with equal representation from each State. The beauty of this system hinges on local representation bringing local issues to the National table that can only be acted on if the same issues occur across the Nation. This system, while nominally intact, has been corrupted beyond what I believe our Founding Fathers could ever have imagined. We are now asked frequently to provide campaign funds to elections that are far away from our location in an attempt to sway an election in a district that we know little or nothing about. With the state of transportation and media in the late 1700’s what it was, I don’t believe our Founding Fathers even considered the possibility of people campaigning for candidates that they couldn’t vote for. In many cases, I
believe, people wouldn’t even know who was running in a distant district until the winning candidate was seated in Congress. In the rural economy that we had back then, people’s needs were always more like their neighbors than people in other states. If people that lived a distance from each other shared the same concerns, you could be sure that those concerns were worth addressing at a national level. That is no longer the case.

One of the most important rights in the United States is that of Free Speech. As a country we have recognized the importance of limiting this right in special situations. You cannot yell “FIRE” in a crowded theater just like you can’t lie in order to make money, (fraud). I realize it is probably impossible to stop all politicians from lying. It is possible to lessen the impact of these lies by restricting campaign funding. Electioneering is a special form of speech, that must be limited to the people who are most affected by the election in question. With this in mind I would suggest the following as an Amendment to our Constitution:

Notwithstanding the First Amendment, efforts to influence elections to public office in the United States and its’ subdivisions shall be limited to those who are eligible to vote in said election.

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The enacting legislation would provide for legitimate reporting of news, full disclosure in a timely basis of contributions, and the rights of states to pass laws limiting contributions. Penalties for violators should include the loss of the right to vote.

The difficulty of getting this passed is obvious due to the power inherent in the lobby’s and the political parties. It should be possible, however, as these are two of the groups that are most reviled in the country. It might require a Grover Norquist 'no new taxes' type of action, where we all shame our congressmen into pledging support for the Amendment.