Thursday, March 11, 2010

Campaign Finance Reform Recognition

Our campaign finance situation in this country is in a very poor state, and most Americans probably generally agree. I published a post on this subject expressing my views back in February last year. It was made worse in January this year when the Supreme Court in a case called "Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission" in a 5-4 ruling decided that corporate funding, and that of labor unions, of independent political broadcasts in candidate elections cannot be limited because of the rights of these entities to free speech.

When he heard about this ruling Senator John McCain, co-sponsor of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, expressed his unhappiness by saying "campaign finance reform is dead!" President Obama made headlines in expressing his strong disappointment in his State of the Union speech on January 27th. In a poll taken by the Washington Post and ABC News in February about 80% of Americans were opposed to the Court's ruling: 85% of Democrats, 76% of Republicans, and 81% of Independents.

The campaign finance situation is in a very poor state for a number of reasons. Money and access to a great deal of money is having far too much influence on who is prepared to run for public office and who ends up winning the majority of elections. This is not healthy for a democracy and is not fair for Americans of average or below average means. Furthermore, it is often not fair to shareholders who have invested in corporations, and members of labor unions, who are typically not consulted about political contributions made by the companies they own or unions of which they are dues-paying members. Worse, due to the high costs of running for office and the consequent need for substantial campaign contributions, our current system results in significant de facto political corruption or at least the perception of corruption. Outcomes frequently include inappropriate political favors and earmark legislation favoring large contributors at the expense of most taxpayers.

Another reason for the poor state of our campaign finance situation is that the laws and regulations covering campaign finance are numerous and extremely complex, many enacted by states and many others by the federal government. This situation unneccessarily provides a lot of business for attorneys and, again, favors those individuals, companies, and unions that want to influence elections and legislation, and those who can afford to pay for high-priced attorneys and lobbyists who can help them achieve their objectives.

At this point I want to provide well earned recognition to a relatively unknown good role model and pioneer on the issue of campaign finance reform who died at 100 just a few days ago. Her name was Doris Haddock, she lived in New Hampshire, and was known as "Granny D." When she was 89 she walked across the country from Pasadena to Washington, D. C. for 3,200 miles to promote campaign finance reform, especially public funding of campaigns, walking about ten miles a day! She even skied 100 miles along the journey when snowfall made roadside walking impossible! That's serious dedication! Most people 89, I suspect, could not walk or ski that far for one full day. Also noteworthy, when she was 94 she ran for the United States Senate against Republican Judd Gregg, losing 66% to 34%.

The telling sub-title to her autobiography, co-written by government reformer Dennis Burke, who accompanied Granny D on her walk across the country, was "You're Never Too Old to Raise a Little Hell." What a woman! She was right about that and she was right in promoting campaign finance reform. I don't agree with Senator McCain that reform is "dead," but it is certainly not at all healthy, and it will take quite a while before it is likely to be on the Administration's or Congress' front burners. There are too many other higher national priorities at present, and for real reform to take place some changes in the make-up of the Supreme Court might be required.

Still, we owe it our ourselves and to Granny D's memory to not forget the continuing need to seriously reform our current outdated and dysfunctional campaign finance system, notwithstanding the constitutional challenge posed by the First Amendment.

1 comment:

Viking Views said...

I claimed in my post that way too much money was being spent on political campaigns and that access to a lot of money was playing too large of a role in determining who was running for public office and who was able to win elections.

More evidence of this was covered in an article on page AA3 of today's L. A. Times about Meg Whitman's record spending spree. Ms. Whitman, well known billionaire and former CEO of EBay, is expected to become the Republican nominee for governor of California. Since entering the race early last year she has reportedly spent $46 million on her campaign, mostly from her personal wealth, and this is seven times as much as either of her main rivals. Of that amount she has spent $27 million in the first eleven weeks of this year.

Ms. Whitman is most probably going to be competing in the general election against Attorney General Jerry Brown, whose modest wealth will require him to do a great deal of fundraising from political allies and special interests.

Can anyone provide an honest, compelling argument why this is they right way to handle campaign financing. I doubt it. However, because of the number of higher priority issues currently facing the Obama Administration and the Congress, I'd be very surprised if campaign finance reform gets any serious attention for quite a while.