Thursday, March 17, 2011

State in dire need of campaign finance reform

Earlier this week, I wrote on the need to implement public financing of electoral campaigns. I didn’t provide a framework or an idea of what should be done, but rather discussed why campaign finance reform would be beneficial to the people overall, enhancing voters’ speech rights by making them more equal to donations from large corporate interests and the wealthy elite. In essence, I argued that the problem facing our country wasn’t a free speech issue, but rather an equal speech issue.

I want to address an issue that I’ve often heard brought about by several conservatives I talk to. I’ve read assertions over the past year that the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court was justifiable...because it allowed unions to donate to political causes too, and that the end result would be beneficial to everyone, not just corporate elites. That justification, it seems to me, is worthless for two reasons.

First, if unions had the capability to match corporate funding of campaigns, it might matter a little. The fact of the matter is that they don’t that they’re vastly outspent by their corporatist counterparts.

According to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, businesses outspend unions in Wisconsin by a margin of 12 to 1. For the Republican Party, it’s significantly larger (104 to 1), likely due in part to the fact that most unions generally donate to Democrats. But for Democratic campaigns, unions are STILL outspent by corporate dollars (6 to 1), meaning that union influence on Democratic campaigns is still insignificant compared to businesses overall.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, simply stating that another entity has the right to spend unlimited amounts of money doesn’t fix the fact that money in politics is still influencing our candidates for office. In fact, money shouldn’t play a factor at all -- a candidate should rely on the voters’ concerns, not their pocketbooks, to influence their campaigns, and ultimately the way they legislate. By limiting corporate -- and yes, union -- campaign spending, the people would have a greater voice within the system overall.

Simply put, limits on campaign spending -- allowing only a certain amount to be donated towards a specific candidate or political action committee -- would allow citizens both the right to donate to campaigns as well as the right to have a near-equal influence of their legislators.

It’s true that the current model still allows lawmakers to make up their own minds, to truly consider their constituents’ wishes when drafting legislation. But come on -- who are we kidding here? A lawmaker who has the financial backing of a major corporation (even if it’s an indirect endorsement) will pay little mind to the donor who scrounged up $25 to show their support, especially if that lawmaker risks losing the backing of that major corporation in the next election.

We live in a time where people don’t matter in our democracy anymore. It’s not yet “rule by corporations” (what Mussolini himself coined as “fascism”), but right now we have middle-men lawmakers passing legislation based on the wants and desires of corporate wealthy elites, not the people they supposedly represent. We ought to change that, restore our democracy, and reform the campaign process.

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