(A previously published 2007 article of mine that I periodically retrieve when election time nears. This time, I’m prompted by the April, 2014 Supreme Court decision in “McCutcheon vs. FEC” and its impact on the upcoming November elections. This is a decision that I firmly reject, despite my dyed-in-the-wool conservative credentials. The degree to which money influences American elections at every local, state and national level is deeply destructive. It is also unethical, immoral and philosophically antithetical to the principles of our constitutional republic.)
“Campaign Finance Reform”
Maybe my current thoughts about elections have been influenced by my move to New Hampshire, a state with a mighty proud history of feisty political independence and a genuine “citizen legislature.” Maybe it’s my nostalgic affection for the classic Jimmy Stewart film “Mr Smith Goes To Washington.” But I’ve come to conclude that I and my fellow concerned citizens are firmly and finally fed up with all of our professional politicians, every last one of them, from all parties, and that we are especially fed up with political parties themselves.
I believe we have been fed up for a long time, but we have yet to effectively demonstrate our dissatisfaction. Nor have we mustered the courage to initiate the kind of radical reforms that, in my view, are increasingly urgently necessary. I also believe we have succumbed to resigned frustration for lack of obvious tools to initiate such change. However, the relatively recent explosion of blogs seems to give us new means and new powers. Just look at the thousands of politically flavored blogs in which we rake our politicians up and down, with varying degrees of justification, for their incompetence, stupidity, greed, dishonesty and self righteousness. We need to use this power better.
We, and that means you and I, have neglected our civic responsibilities for too long. We have allowed this magnificent nation of ours to slip from its sublime founding principles of self government, forfeiting the real liberating power embodied in the fullest sense of “we the people.” So I started thinking, what would it simply take to recapture self-governance from the political hacks and from the entrenched special interests to whom those hacks cater and grovel? I’ve come up with what I think is a radical but simple set of effective reforms:
• Prohibit all political campaign contributions of any kind from any source.
• Prohibit all political campaign advertisements of any kind in any media. (As to the free speech argument, there’s plenty of precedent in the prohibition of tobacco and alcohol advertisements).
• Require all political candidates for every office from the Presidency on down to local city councils and town committees to engage in televised debates.
• Structure real debates, demanding response from every candidate to each question or proposition, and allowing every candidate rebuttal opportunity. The questions or propositions should derive from the public, not the media, and should be sufficient in number to cover a comprehensive set of standard categories (e.g. foreign affairs, homeland security, domestic budgets, etc.). Moderators should be fearless in keeping responses on point.
• Schedule the debates close to election day, say, within a maximum period of the preceding 30 days.
• Government funds should appropriately subsidize debate broadcast time.
• Elected candidates should have their private sector jobs protected by legislation along the lines of “public service leave.”
That’s it. Period. I believe these simple changes, however radical, would put the candidacy credentials of the average citizen on equal footing with those of wealthy dilettantes, professional pols or special interest straw men, allowing once again for real representative government of, by and for the people.
It also relegates political parties to a diminished yet more responsible role. Instead of cultivating only wealthy candidates, raising extraordinary piles of money, and manufacturing images flattering to their candidate but degrading to their opposition, political parties could spend their time seeking and cultivating competent candidates from the general population, and they can organize meaningful primaries. Statistically speaking, their chances of finding the right persons would increase exponentially from today’s ill conceived practices.
It would cleanly extirpate the massive lobby cancer that has metastasized throughout Washington and every state capital, a cancer that has all but destroyed our cherished democracy. It would erase all the campaign bullshit that is the only substance of every campaign ad. It would strip away the masks of slogans and spin, forcing candidates to directly face the public. More importantly, they would be unable to avoid addressing the compelling issues of the day.
The election season would be drastically and beneficially shrunk, keeping legislators at work on the people’s business, preventing the gigantic waste of time consumed by their campaign stumping and fundraising. In fact, it would eliminate all tainted moneys from the election process and, with that, the poisonous seeds of corruption. And it would save the government and the economy billions of dollars that are now squandered on the ill-producing machinery of the campaign industry.
Could it work? Could you and I make it happen? Or am I dreaming?