Campaign-finance reform is urgently needed
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Today’s campaign financing process for state and federal office is a grotesque metamorphosis of what the framers of our Constitution had in mind when they drafted the document. The success of candidates for public office is no longer determined by their qualifications or the quality of the programs they offer, but instead by who can raise enough money to buy the most television time to attack the opponents. And where does all that money come from? Largely from selling their souls to the devil – namely wealthy and powerful corporate interests. In return for this largess, those donors expect a handsome return in legislation that favors their interests over the interest of the public, whom they have conned into voting for “their” man.
The current battle over health-care reform is a glaring example. Recent polls indicate that two-thirds of the American public favors a single-payer system, very much like Social Security and Medicare, into which nearly everyone pays and everyone receives an amount established by legislation. Under these conditions, where is the need for an insurance “middle-man” to siphon off a significant amount of the public’s money? But public participation was virtually excluded from the Senate’s health reform hearings, while the insurance and pharmaceutical industries were there en masse, fighting tooth and nail to preserve their lucrative revenue stream. “Why?” you ask. The answer, “Money.” And that is why the final health-care plan will most likely ignore the public and give the special interests what they want. The industries and their lobbyists know on which side their bread is buttered, and so do our senators and representatives, on whom we have mistakenly depended to represent the public’s interest.
So what is the solution to this problem? It is simply to take private money out of the election process. Public financing of primaries and elections, giving both the incumbents and viable challengers an equal amount each, depending on the office being contested and the population of the state or district involved – all established in advance by law. Several states, including Arizona, Connecticut, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico and North Carolina, and a number of cities, have adopted reform measures which give candidates for state and local office the choice of continuing with the current corrupting system with its constant hustling for money, or foregoing private interest money in return for public campaign funds. Both private interests and the public are still free to support the candidates of their choice in any way they see fit – except with money.
This would have several beneficial effects. First, it would free incumbents from the burden of soliciting campaign contributions, allowing them to devote more of their time to serving the public who elected them. Second, it would avoid any suspicion, well-founded or not, that their actions in office are being influenced by the necessity of granting “favors” in return for campaign contributions. And third, it would tend to shorten what have become year-long (or even longer) campaigns, because the amount of public money should not be sufficient to support a campaign duration longer than four to six months.
Public financing of elections has met with overwhelming public support because it promotes election of candidates on the basis of their qualifications and ideas instead of money, and removes any reason for being beholden to special interest donors. In Maine, 82 percent of the candidates chose public funding, and won 58 percent of the contests in which they were running against candidates funded by private interests.
The need for health-care reform and campaign-finance reform is equally urgent, one for the health needs of the American people, and the other for the health of our election process and the future of a government that represents the people instead of entrenched moneyed interests. The question for us is, who do we have to elect to accomplish these needed reforms.
Glenwood Springs resident Hal Sundin’s column runs every other Thursday in The Post Independent.
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