Monday, February 22, 2010

Legalized Bribery?

Allow me to immediately put you to sleep with just three words. Are you ready? Here goes:

Campaign Finance Reform

Still reading? It just sounds like drudgery doesn't it? I automatically have the image of a stuffy McCain ranting like a senile old man no one is paying attention to. And I daresay the rest of America feels the same way since it frequently ranks the issue near the bottom in every poll of their political priorities. Its not as flashy as say, abortion or war, or as close to home as the economy or taxes. but I think if folks stopped to think about it, they might feel a little differently.

Congress and the rest of the federal government consistently get abysmal approval ratings. I can't remember the last time it was even close to 50%. but why is this constantly the case? The way the system is supposed to work, the Senator would like to stay in office (clearly the safest assumption of the whole process). Therefore, he should legislate in a way pleasing to his constituency. This second assumption is the problem.

What does it really take to stay in office? We all know the answer, cold hard cash. You need a great PR firm. You need good lawyers, campaign workers, buttons, flyers, TV spots, photo-ops, etc. No matter what your platform, voting record, or credentials are, you cannot hope to win a major election without a sizeable warchest. And if you have all these things, the formula for staying in office has pretty well perfected. The fact is we as potential voters never have the time or inclination to stay as informed as we should, and consequently, its easy for the incumbent Senator to squeeze the neccessary votes out with a well-made fear-mongering ad once every few years. In Rome, it was bread and circuses, today its McDonalds and TV.

So where does all the money come from? Well, from people, both as individuals and in groups, whether they're political parties, grass-roots organizations, political action committees, lobbying groups, or even the big bad multinational corporation. Fact of the matter is, most individuals would rather spend their hard-earned money on something with a little more tangible personal effects than give it to a politician. Heck, I refuse to even pay 99 cents for an iPhone app. And the big politicians know this. They don't even really bother targeting the constituency for funds. Instead they go for the biog potential donors only at giant $1000 per plate dinners. (Although one guy I'm known to be fond of has had success with the micro finance fund-drives, hint: his name rhymes with Con Schmall.) Consequently, your senator doesn't really give a damn what you think. He knows its more important for him to maintain his relationship with his big donors to stay in office than his relationship with Joe A. Voter.

Ultimately, this leads to the elected official's vote being for sale to the highest bidder. And your current big donor will often hint your relationship is toast if you vote yea or nay on bill X or Y. I've heard several folks inside and outside our country call this a system of legalized bribery. All of this is allegedly OK since its all out in the open and all your campaign fund sources are public knowledge. The supreme court recently took up this question, and in a 5-4 decision, concluded the system was OK as is. Clarence Thomas reasoned that people have the 2nd amendment right to give money to campaigns regardless of whether they do so as a single individual or in the form of a giant corporation. And I can't really disagree with that. Corporations are made of people after all. Nor do I blame a corporation for donating to a candidate that will serve its interests. One of my big personal rules is that it is foolish to expect any entity to act in any way other than its perceived self-interest afterall.

But we still have a problem. If this is a democracy, my political voice is supposed to be as equally influential as the next guy's, even if he's the CEO of Exxon. But this is clearly not the case. Sure, there's public funding, but its meager, and to even qualify, you have to have a certain amount of, you guessed it, money. The situation remains that those with the most resources remain the most politically influential. This surely is what the founding fathers were trying to avoid. But in their defense, I really don't think they foresaw the arrival of the mass media. Our goal then should be to cut the ties between money and political influence, a difficult task certainly, but equally worthwhile.

As a modest proposal, why don't we eliminate campaign spending outright? No signs, no buttons, no rallies, no PR and advertising people. Each candidates viability is determined by a set number of signatures on publicly available petitions, digital and hard copy. Each candidate is given equal video exposure in TV spots on public television only in the form of video shot by a public video crew who just puts a camera in front of the candidate for 30 seconds. Uniform websites with the candidates info are viewable on a publicly run internet domain. I'm sure there are a thousand problems with this proposal already, but Americans have begun to realize the system is broken. And unless we start thinking along these lines, we'll continue to head down the well-beaten path from democracy to oligarchy.


Candace Chaney said...

I assume these are Jonny's thoughts? :)

Amber said...

What? You don't think I would write this? Doesn't it sound like me? :) Very Jonny indeed.

Amber said...

It is Jonny on the spot after all :)

Anonymous said...

I was wondering the same thing.

Candace Chaney said...

Well... it COULD have been you, Amber. That's why I asked. But it WAS very Jonny.

And brother, I'm with you completely on the much needed reform, but I also have significant amounts of disillusionment that leads to some degree of apathy. I say we scrap democracy and oligarchy and anarchy and find ourselves a king who would govern us perfectly because he is completely wise and completely humble and knows what's best for us and would give up everything he has for us.

I'm for... you guessed it... the righteous theocracy of King Jesus. :)

One day...

But what to do in the meantime? I guess I should let go of my apathy and really consider the best of the worst kinds of governments being democracy. Didn't Churchill say something like that?

Anyway, thanks for the thoughts.

They were good.

Anonymous said...

After I read this I dreamed that Jonny was elected President and it just didn't sound right, "President Dent." Amber was a great first lady and there were lots of kids running around the white house and I was watching them. Hmmmm?

Amber said...

Wow KK... crazy dream! I wouldn't mind living in the White House, but how many kids is "lots?" We might need to discuss that detail a bit more before we move to DC :)

Jonny said...

When your king is perfect, sure, that's the best option. But God has also given the interim. And I'm sure he did so for a reason and he would want us to make the most of it.

And KK, we would all be totally screwed should your dream come to pass.