Prerequisite – Campaign Finance Reform
Unless we confront the role of money in politics it will be impossible to affect the required changes in the process and policies of government. The obscene sums of money that flow into political campaigns have turned the right of free speech into a right to buy control of the conversation. Worse yet, the vast money flows, non-stop campaigns, and obsequious fundraising in which we require our politicians to become immersed tend to warp their character and judgment.
The practice of rewarding one’s electoral supporters by exercising the powers of office is a perversion of our American Democracy. Participation in government was not intended to facilitate the exercise of power by the privileged in pursuit of personal self-interest – or preferential treatment of narrow constituencies.
Our founders intended that Congress would be populated by Citizen Representatives: Men (and only much later women) with active lives, careers, land-holdings, business-holdings, and family and community relationships who served as individuals dutifully, but temporarily, on behalf of their communities. It should not be underestimated how much establishing and maintaining this particular aspect of representative government was, and is, critical to the goals of the Union.
Participation in the American Congress was conceived as a civic service, performed on behalf of one’s fellow citizens. As we have moved away from that vision and populated our government with professionals, we have lost many of the benefits of that vision. Men and women who come to government to serve their friends and neighbors for a brief period of time, but then return to their homes to conduct their own primary affairs view the world differently than people whose primary interests are furthering their political future.
Men and women who view governmental power as a goal to be fervently sought and vehemently defended, and who arrive in office beholden to supporters lobbying aggressively for favors, which in this day and age encompasses all politicians, will find it hard to make difficult, often painful, decisions without first checking carefully to see which way the wind blows.
We’ve created a class of professional politicians and immersed them in a system that forces them to beg financial favors from campaign contributors in order to keep their positions of power and status. Are we really so naïve as to think that those contributors don’t ask, expect, demand and receive favorable consideration in return?
To date, efforts to control the flow of money into political campaigns have substantially been resisted as an infringement of free speech. But if effective speech can only be exercised when it is accompanied by the expenditure of vast sums of money, then the average individual’s rights of free speech are no more than a figment of our imagination. It is, therefore, imperative that we find a way to limit the existing linkage between effective electioneering and money. Unlinking the connection between our Representatives and the moneyed interests which allow them to obtain office is the first and most critical step required to get them to start acting like citizens.
Can it be done? I think it can. But it requires a shift in thinking. We have to facilitate Free Speech. We have to make elections about information and communication, not money. We have to make it easy for voices to be heard, and hard to drown them out. We need to provide public forums and funding in support of political campaigns and advocacy.
Public broadcast airwaves should be made readily available for political speech. Every candidate who accumulates enough citizen signatures to qualify to put his name on a ballot should simultaneously obtain access to publicly funded election communications forums. I am not suggesting that campaign finance reform be used to censor or restrict speech. I am advocating that we facilitate the exchange of political speech and separate it, and thus our candidates and elected officials, from the current forced allegiance to money.
I can conceive of an atmosphere in which a candidate who chooses to use private funds to initiate saturation advertising would be ostracized and shunned as dishonest and untrustworthy. If free information distribution was readily available and became the approved publicly funded forum for serious political debate, but someone chose instead to spend millions of dollars to force his message on you, wouldn’t you question that person’s intelligence and integrity? I think we should.
External advocacy can and should still exist – but direct campaign contributions and the financial demands placed upon candidates seeking public office need to be very severely curtailed. I am strongly in favor of advocacy groups of all kinds working to educate politicians upon the merits or dangers of various public policy positions. I am vehemently opposed to the current structure which encourages political candidates to trade policy support for financial support. Unless the ties between financial support and public office and action are broken, our public officials cannot act as the Citizen Representatives they were intended to be.
Is it feasible to think that a political class who has grown accustomed to feeding at the trough of big money contributors would voluntarily initiate a change in approach? I think some would. I think the best would. Given some public support and encouragement, I think the best of our public servants would gladly turn their backs on the rubber-chicken fundraising circuit and re-direct their time and attention more fully toward the challenges of government. I also think that if we could minimize fund-raising demands upon our candidates we might begin to attract a broader assortment and higher quality of citizen to public office. I think we need to offer them that support and encouragement.
Please take a look at the petition posted nearby and, if you share the views expressed, add your signature and voice to the demand for reform.