Money is the mother's milk of political corruption
It is truly said that money is the mother’s milk of politics. But our political system has long since ceased to be nourished by this special milk.
Instead the flow of money has corrupted our system so completely that even those politicians who want to be honest cannot remain so and retain their offices. If some semblance of honor and honesty is to be restored to American politics, our system must be weaned away from financial contributions.
The non-partisan Center for Representative Politics estimates that the total cost of the 2008 elections was $5.3 billion! The average cost of election to the House of Representatives is now $1.1 million, for a two-year job that pays about $170,000. An average Senate race costs $6.5 million.
The Democrats have famously bragged that President Obama will raise over one billion dollars to fund his 2012 re-election race. Only a tiny fraction of these amounts will come from small private donors like you or me.
The great bulk will be donated by unions, large private corporations, financial institutions, very wealthy individuals and the like. Is there anyone so naive as to believe that those who contribute these vast sums are simply altruistic?
The sad truth is that the donors expect to receive and the politicians expect to give extensive and valuable favors in return for the money that pays for their campaigns. The prevailing fiction is that these donations guarantee only access to elected officials but that is – you guessed it – a crock of crap!
It is in fact a form of legalized bribery and it poisons our political system. To sweeten the pot some donors offer a variety of personal benefits to Members or their families and the more corrupt Members readily accept them. But even those who do not spend a great deal of their time, from the moment of their election, raising the money they will need to fund their next election.
Most of them resent the need to do this but they also realize that if they do not raise the necessary amounts they will lose and, if they fail to provide the expected benefits to the larger donors, money will flow to their opponents in the next election.
This is nothing new. Both parties do it routinely.
Large donors often cynically donate to selected members of both parties to ensure that they have rented enough influence and votes to protect their positions no matter who wins.
And it is getting worse.
The Obama Administration is already the most blatantly corrupt in my lifetime. It scares me to think what a second Obama term would be like.
So what is to be done?
Congress has made several efforts to reduce the corruption stemming from campaign contributions, most recently the McCain-Feingold Law, but all have failed or been circumvented.
In my view, the problem lies with the fact that anyone can contribute to the election of any public official. I believe that all such contributions, in cash or in kind, should be banned and that all elections, federal, state or local, should be paid for with public funds from the tax base.
Anyone holding office or obtaining the requisite number of signatures of registered voters should be able to run.
There are several problems with this idea.
First and foremost, the US Supreme Court has held that monetary contributions to political campaigns are a form of free speech enjoying constitutional protection. With all due respect to the Supremes, who have in the past held that slavery and Jim Crow laws were OK and that women could be denied the vote, I believe they are again wrong.
The damage done to the country via monetary corruption far exceeds the benefits conferred by the right to make such contributions. Many politicians who benefit from existing arrangements even as they regret the need to raise campaign funds would oppose my proposal.
A contribution ban would also be opposed by the lobbying industry, which would be driven to fundamental reform if they could no longer funnel cash to politicians.
Even the media, which makes a fortune from political advertising, could be expected to oppose.
Yet the benefits to the United States from publicly funded elections would be huge. The change I propose would significantly reduce the exposure of our politicians to cash and thus their opportunities for corruption. It would lead our leaders to spend more time educating the population on the issues and selling them on the facts of their positions in order to be elected.
And, no small benefit, it would severely reduce the amounts of money spent on election campaigns which would mean shorter campaigns and an end to the state of permanent campaigning which we all now endure.
Oh, I know it will never happen, but still I can dream.
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