Thursday, March 01, 2007

Take the Money Out of Politics

One of the few Democratic presidential candidates to pique my interest was Tom Vilsack, but that was short-lived. He's now out of the race because he doesn't have enough money to compete. Vilsack only raised $1.1 million of the $20 million he needed to stay in the race until June.

There's a lesson here for parents across the country: Don't tell your children they could grow up to be president someday unless you're filthy rich and plan on buying the election for them.

I'm serious. Experts from
both parties estimate the White House race in 2008 could cost each nominee $500 million.

What's wrong with huge sums of money being spent? Here are a
few excellent reasons from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette [emphasis added]:
Basically, the candidates operate on the assumption that the voters are for sale -- that the more money they spend courting the voters, the more likely it is that they will be elected.

It gets worse. Another fact is that to acquire that amount of money, the candidates have to spend most of their time courting big donors and, in the process, pandering to whatever points of view those donors hold to get them to write the checks and bundle their contributions. With so much of their time devoted to this, there is less time for candidates to spend on developing well-thought-out positions on issues.

What that also means is more power to the rich in a country where the system is already heavily tilted to the advantage of that tiny percentage of the population, and to the disadvantage of the poor, who are steadily increasing in number and percentage.

Thus, the underlying assumptions of American elections have become that the candidates are for sale, the voters are for sale as well and the big money to buy both is in the hands of the very rich. That's what Mr. Vilsack's withdrawal means, even though he didn't spell it out. The monetization of America's elections has to be one of the saddest phenomena of our country's pretensions to democracy.
It's time to mop things up and take money out of politics according to Abi @ 604, and he backs up his assertion with the following excellent suggestions:
Restrict the length of campaigns — weeks, not years.
Ban political advertising.
Ban paid lobbying.
Ban political contributions by any entity except individuals.
Restrict how much a candidate can spend on an election, including the candidate's own money.
Those are all worthy goals that I'd like to hear the next batch of presidential candidates promote with sincerity if they hope to get my attention, let alone my vote.


abi said...

Why, what excellent suggestions.

It drives me crazy how obvious the corruping influence of money in politics is, and yet, we won't take serious steps to change it because that wouldn't be, you know, moderate.

"Moderate" is one of those words that the "tiny percentage of the population" uses to keep the rest of us behaving properly.

Thanks for the link.

His Honor the Mayor said...

I feel Gov. Vilsack's pain. I have come to the conclusion that I, Kevin McKague, have to withdraw from the 2012 race for the Democratic nomination, a full 56 months before the election, and before I even announce that I was running.

But seriously folks, as much as I would like to see change in the way people pay to run for higher office, I don't believe we can ever take the money out of the equation. I believe laws like McCain-Feingold, which restrict issue ads in the weeks before elections are unconstitutional (the Supreme Court disagrees, but they're wrong), and other proposed restrictions on contributions would restrict our rights as well. Given the choice between freer access to campaigns and personal rights to contribute, financially or otherwise, I prefer protecting individual rights.

There is one proposal I would like to see discussed more often: Make broadcast networks and national cable channels give away a certain amount of airtime for free to candidates.

abi said...

hizzonah, I would ban contributions from organizations like corporations, unions, pacs, etc, but not by individuals.

Individual rights are not served by corporations hiring lobbyists to push their agenda in Congress, or well-bankrolled candidates selling themselves on tv (not to mention selling themselves to those who bankroll them).

Spending money is not free speech.

Lew Scannon said...

The reason this country has evolved into a one-party with two different names systems is on account of donors who slip a little to each side so they can have a say when the candidates win. The American people would be wise to dump both parties and start fresh with less expensive ones, but, alas, the American people are none too wise.

Kathy said...

Sorry for the delay in checking the comments. I've been under the weather and preferred lying in bed to sitting in front of my computer. ;-)

Kevin, I still lean toward Abi's suggestions and I agree with him about taking corporate lobbyists out of the equation, and I especially agree about the well-bankrolled candidates.

DeVos is a prime example of why there should be limits, and I sometimes wonder if some state Republicans weren't sorry they couldn't say no to him. His money bought him the nomination at the expense of some other talented and more deserving people. DeVos's money also bought the media's loyalty at the expense of other Republicans who wanted a chance at the nomination - like Louis Boven. I do like your idea about making broadcast networks and national cable channels to give away free airtime. I'd also like to see all campaign money get put into one big pool to be divided equally among all candidates! That won't sell of course, but it would be fair to the candidates who don't have the well-heeled connections.

Lew also brings up a good point about the system evolving into one party with two different names. Shortly before the elections last year, I read that corporate lobbyists were already shifting their donations to the Dems because they expected them to take control. It's very disheartening and maddening and something has to be done. Voters don't feel they make a difference because corporate America is wheeling and dealing behind the scenes in Washington.