Thursday, April 14, 2016

Peer pressure, addiction and big money campaign finance

A few days ago, I wrote a post concerning the very real spectacle of Hilary Clinton using campaign funding to buy off support from 33 state Democratic parties. In support of that post, I used a story written by Margot Kidder, the actress who played Lois Lane in the 1978 film, Superman. Her article is astonishing in detail, and describes the remarkable chutzpah of a presidential candidate completely determined to make sure that the will of the people may not be heard.

Although there are many fine nuggets of information in Kidder's article, I found myself curious about the following passage:
Most state democratic parties don’t want Campaign Finance Reform. They feel they can’t afford it. Many local politicians become terrified of voicing support for alternative candidates out of fear of being cut off the Democratic Party gravy train.
To put it differently, they don't seem to mind exploiting a Supreme Court ruling that permits fast and loose handling of money from billionaires and millionaires to the state Democratic parties, then to the DNC and then back out to select candidates that toe the line. They're exploiting the 2014 Supreme Court ruling in McCutcheon vs. FEC, but that's OK because it's legal. The problem is, as many voters have observed, it's not moral.

What we've been witnessing over the last thirty or more years, is an arms race of sorts. Every year, the amount of money required to win an election keeps going up. Every 4 years, some astronomical sum is reported to have been spent by each candidate vying for the nomination of their respective party, and then for the presidency.

Members of Congress are spending up to a 3rd of their time on the phone dialing for dollars from their billionaire and millionaire benefactors. Somehow, along the way, the idealism they brought with them to Congress was buried with money. Other people's money, with an agenda that doesn't happen to coincide with the rest of us.

The big money in politics denies the American people a debate on the merits of any bill before becoming law, of any voice in shaping public policy.

This arms race in campaign finance is an addiction. This addiction started out small in the 1980s. Once politicians tasted big money, and saw the advantages of using it to win elections, they got high. They began to justify the big money by saying that everyone else is doing it. You should, too.

If someone else got more big money, an elected official seeking to retain office would get on the phone and dial for more money. They would offer more compromises to their integrity and their character. They probably think, "Ok. I'll do this for one more election cycle and then I'll get back to the idealism I came here with. I'll work in the public interest again. But for now, I need more money to win re-election." But that never happens.

At some point, the gravy train has to stop and our elected officials need to be reminded of who put them in office, again. And again. And again.

The phone is ringing. It's waiting for someone to pick up. It's a distant, muted sound, but it's there. It's the people calling. Waiting for answers to the questions like, "Who do you work for? Are you really going to send our kids into another useless war again? Are you really going to cut food stamps to save a few bucks to justify a tax cut to millionaires and billionaires? Are you really going to raise the retirement age for Social Security to ensure you get that big money hit for the next election? Will you please fix the plumbing in Michigan?"

People like Larry Lessig have demonstrated that there is a very real problem of big money in politics. Lessig created the superPAC to end all SuperPACs, Mayday.us. They're using that money to fund candidates that will work for real campaign finance reform in Congress. "Real campaign finance reform" means more than just placing limits on contributions and requiring disclosure.

We also need laws that say you can't trade favors for money. We need anti-corruption laws that have real teeth in them, laws that say if you're caught taking a bribe, you go to prison. All we want is a debate on the merits. As Lessig said in a TED Talk speech a few years ago, we want representative government dependent upon the people alone:
"The framers gave us what they called a republic, but by a republic they meant a representative democracy, and by a representative democracy, they meant a government, as Madison put it in Federalist 52, that would have a branch that would be dependent upon the people alone."
Bernie Sanders is the only candidate for president with the self-discipline required to reject big money in his campaigns for Congress and now for president. He has proven that ordinary people can run for public office and win without accepting astronomical sums from a few very wealthy people. He's done this over and over for 14 elections straight. He doesn't need a law to tell him to reject big money.

Bernie Sanders is willing to run on the merits of his policy proposals alone. He is running on the merits of his record, alone. He is dependent upon the people alone.
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