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D Petersen


3 posts in this topic

Greetings from a mew poster.

In the past 8-10 years we have seen the governmental institutions fail the American people at an unprecidented scale. To name a few:

1. Security services-9/11 attacks

2. Infrastructure maintence-Minnesota bridge collapse, pitiful state of the roads, etc

3. Financial security-the current mess and all that led to it

4. Long term economy-the size of the defecit and the runaway spending

It seems to me that, given the amount of resources that are spent on the government and its various arms, we should have a much better performance than we get. The causes of this sub-par performance are many and varied, but I would like to focus on one (for now).

It is my opinion that we need to find a way to take the money out of politics. Given the vast sums that are spent on campaigns and the need to raise this amount of money, our politicians have turned into fundraisers. When elected (assuming they are) most feel the need to begin raising money for their next election cycle. Also consider the sources of the money and the political clout that is buys. Surely the time devoted to the JOB that was so badly wanted will suffer. Not to mention the time spent "on the road" while accepting money/benefits from the government.

Now how this could be done is full of problems. Some will mention abridgement of first amendment rights, others will spout discrimination, and a host of ther arguements. Somehow I think it's very important to get a handle on this to level the playing field. I'll have to leave it to much more savy minds as to how this could be done.

Thanks for the soapbox.

D Petersen

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I think the ACLU is on the right track. The solution is not to limit contributions, which is a roundabout way of limiting speech. Instead, we should use judicious public financing to give legitimate but underfinanced candidates a voice. The following is excerpted from Senate testimony in 2000 by ACLU honcho Ira Glass:

The Source of the Problem - and Its Remedy

The major cost of election campaigns is the cost of communicating with voters - a core First Amendment activity. The primary reason why this cost has escalated so dramatically in recent years is the dominant use of television and the high cost of television advertising. It is this demand that is driving the need for the supply of money. Public financing is a possible solution, but it must be sufficient and fair to all candidates: it must be structured to avoid providing advantages to incumbents and it must avoid discriminating against third party candidates.

Toward a Fair System of Public Financing

Limits have proven to be a bogus reform. They have not - and cannot - prevent corruption and they necessarily enhance inequality and therefore make elections more unfair. Moreover, they inevitably lead to curbs on speech that everyone agrees should be protected by the First Amendment. For these reasons, the ACLU opposes limits on contributions and expenditures. However, we support public financing that would establish a floor of support for candidates to communicate with voters.

Examinations of many campaigns suggest that if the floor of support is adequate, there is no need to impose a ceiling. Thus, providing a floor of support through public financing for all qualified candidates is a better and more likely constitutional route to reform than the failed attempt to establish ceilings by imposing legal limits on contributions and expenditures.

Public financing should be equally available in equal amounts to all legally qualified candidates. The amount of financing should be adequate to insure public debate of campaign issues. Any funds candidates raise from other sources should not be limited. If the floor is adequate, such additional funds will have only a marginal effect, and any attempt to bar them will create First Amendment problems.

Campaign finance reform based on limits is what we've had for nearly 30 years, and it has not worked very well. Moreover, there has been an increase, rather than a decrease, in inequality. Indeed, inequalities that unfairly benefit incumbents over challengers are built into laws that impose contribution limits. An incumbent has enormous visibility by virtue of the very office he or she holds. More often than not, a challenger's disadvantage can be overcome only by outspending the incumbent. But contribution limits make that difficult, if not impossible. Incumbents also have the franking privilege - they enjoy a large number of free mailings to their constituents. Direct mail expenses by challengers, on the other hand, are charged against their campaign limits.

Limits designed to forestall corruption also give wealthy candidates an unfair advantage. Since the Court ruled in Buckley v. Valeo that candidates cannot corrupt themselves, a wealthy candidate can spend millions on his own campaign. But a candidate of more modest means is prohibited from accepting more than $1000 from a wealthy supporter. This does not advance the goal of equality.

Contrary to what they were intended to do, contribution limits actually invite corruption and abuse and avoid electoral accountability. The incredibly high cost of television ads, which can consume more than half of a candidate's budget, creates an insatiable demand for money. This demand will be met, if not openly, through more devious means, including taking advantage of inconsistencies in the election laws. The rich, who can hire teams of lawyers and accountants, will always find a way around such laws, and they have. Moreover, when the law forces supporters to be devious and to spend their money directly instead of giving it to the candidate, electoral accountability is severed. That is exactly what happened recently when Sam Wyly, a wealthy supporter of George W. Bush, independently spent his own money to advocate Bush's election. Limits have been in place for nearly 30 years, but the problems limits were designed to solve remain, and new problems have been created. It is time for a new approach.

A public financing system could in principle minimize corruption, equalize access to voters, and promote free speech by establishing a real floor. This could be done in a variety of ways. All qualified candidates, including minor party candidates, could be given an adequate franking privilege during the campaign. Various systems to provide adequate time on television could be established. Travel vouchers could be provided. Or direct subsidies could be provided. These steps would reform the system by reducing or paying for its major costs, thereby drying up the need to raise large amounts of money. This approach would also eliminate the need for a government agency like the FEC to regulate citizen speech.

In addition to establishing an unbiased system of public financing, there is another area in which Congress can improve the existing system of campaign regulation: public disclosure of large gifts.

The ACLU has always believed that public disclosure of large campaign contributions, with the exceptions noted in Buckley, is the best check on corruption or the appearance of corruption in this area. It allows the voters to make up their own minds about what is inappropriate, and it gives them the tools to make that judgment. But public disclosure must be timely in order to be useful. The Internet has given us the ability to collect and disseminate large collections of data almost instantaneously. We should insist that required campaign finance reports be filed in a uniform format on tape or disk so that they can be posted on the Internet and available to all interested individuals at once.

ACLU Policy

The ACLU believes that limitations on contributions or expenditures made by individuals or organizations for the purpose of advocating causes or candidates necessarily impinges directly on freedom of speech and association. The appropriate response to the disparities in the ability of different groups and individuals to communicate their political views to voters during an election campaign is to expand, not limit, the resources available for political advocacy. The ACLU therefore supports public financing to provide a floor for campaign expenditures in an amount sufficient to insure a fair public debate, rather than caps on contributions and expenditures, which only enhance inequality and curb speech. Such financing should be available in equal amounts to all legally qualified candidates for office. An objection to this sort of public financing is that it will be too expensive. But in 1998, all congressional general-election candidates combined spent approximately $740 million - roughly $3.69 per eligible voter. That does not seem to be an amount that is prohibitive for a democracy to spend in order to assure fair access to the voters.

Constructing such a system of public financing will be a complicated task. But it is the right road for Congress to travel. The road we have been traveling - the road of limits on contributions and expenditures - is full of constitutional landmines and is inherently unfair. We need to get off that road now.

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I see this thread originates back in the halcyon days before the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court that effectively brought back the days of politics owned and operated outright by robber barons. We've not only failed to improve control of campaign finance in the last four years, things have gone from bad to worse. A river of dark money is being deployed in this election and we all now know what that looks like. And sounds like! Endless attack, attack attack ads targeting this pol or that one, all "without" the knowledge and approval of the candidate being served by the rhetoric. And to make matters much worse, our press has apparently packed in their incredibly important erstwhile function of calling out incorrect statements by political interests and forcing public discourse into dealing with demonstrable facts. It is a very disheartening time. Unknown and unknowable monied interests blanketing public communications with whatever twaddle they want to invent and the public left to ferret out what's real and true for themselves against some very formidable opposition.

But, despair is considered a sin for good reasons. We mustn't despair because that leads to bad things like cars on fire and looting and barricades and pepper spray and flak jackets. I've seen despair in action a few times in my life and it's not the answer to any question. The answer is to hitch up our belts and wade back into the fray and try to get a handle on this carnival of waste and ugliness that we call our political process. We can't expect the pols to do it all by themselves. As Bill Moyers is fond of pointing out, those riding the gravy train seldom want to stop it. But we can expect some of them to help; as Lawrence Lessig says, nobody has a deep seated desire to live as a vassal to some baron...

There's probably a few ways to attack this problem but knowing where to start is daunting. That's why I recommend visiting this site http://www.rootstrikers.org/

and reading what they have to say. Also, Lawrence Lessig, Harvard professor and the patron saint of RootStrikers has a pamphlet called "One Way Forward" (available for something like a dollar on Amazon), that outlines the foundations of the problem and provides a well reasoned and, ultimately, optimistic view on how we can get out of this horrific situation. By the time I finished the professor's book, I'd gotten past my almost-despair and could actually imagine us turning things around. Since I tend to the melancholic, that's no small feat on the part of Lessig's prose!

Edited by Quiet Rain

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