Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Money and Politics

For the most important issue emerging from the 2012 election campaign, you would search vainly in both the transcripts of the 18 (so far) Republican debates and President Obama's overly-lengthy State of the Union address this week. Also, disappointingly, nothing on the topic can be found in Esquire's "79 Things We Can All Agree On" that I discussed (see the next post down), even though it is something that a huge majority of people would agree--and I'm talking about Democrats, Republicans, and independents.

The Supreme Court, in its Citizens United ruling following on the 2008 campaign, swept away the campaign finance restrictions on private organizations, not affiliated with individuals' electoral campaigns. I have condemned the ruling, not so much on the legal merits (about which I don't claim to be expert) but on the horrendous impact it would have on national campaigns, which already are enormously over-expensive and with the quality of the effect of all that spending continuously deteriorating.

What I basically expect, and there is already plenty of evidence of it, is that the unlimited spending from the uncontrolled Super PAC organizations is going to produce a very strong reaction from the public. There will be a decline in turnout from usual Presidential election years because of all the negativity (and possibly from other methods the Republicans are trying to use in some states to suppress voting), but the stronger reaction will be revulsion at the sewage put on the television ads and their frequency during the general election campaign.

I see no chance at all that there will be any serious ceasefire in the money war going on this year (Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown have made a truce regarding their Senate campaign in Massachusetts, but that could easily be broken if one or the other finds things not going well under the restriction). The Super PAC's will weigh in most heavily on some of the closely-contested Senate and House races. Will the influence of negative advertising paid by outside money benefit the campaigns of its big-money backers--as it has often done in the past--or will voters recognize they are being bought and sold and produce a backlash? I am not optimistic about that, but I am hopeful that the bad taste that will remain in all of our mouths (or at least those of the districts whose stations will bombard us with poisonous gas) will lead us to speak out and purge the vitriol.

There are two main directions this reaction should take in 2013--To the Supreme Court's equating of speech with money, and of corporations having the same rights as people, the only response sufficient would be a constitutional amendment to the effect that "Corporations are not people; and only people can contribute to electoral campaigns." This will be difficult, but it needs to be established--this is the only way. When the public will is sufficiently motivated on a bipartisan basis, an amendment can be passed in months--an example being the repeal of Prohibition. There are a couple of online petitions I have seen and supported, one from Sen. Sherrod Brown and one from a group called Democracy for America and signed by Bernie Sanders. I know my Senator from New Mexico, Tom Udall, is supporting some action. As I believe this is--and must be--a movement with bipartisan support, I will also be looking for initiatives coming from Democrats and Independents (besides Bernie) that I can support. Basically, I want to use this year to show consistently my support for change, and I expect the blowback to materialize next year, with serious debate and votes on initiatives.

Unfortunately, even a constitutional amendment will not be enough to clean up our elections. PAC's and companies could still buy time for unofficial statements on political issues that are not specifically endorsing or attacking individual candidates; these ads were already prevalent before Citizens United. There is legislation to provide for Federal financing of campaigns for Congress, the Fair Elections Now Act, but I don't think it will get too far: incumbents like the advantages they have which this legislation would reduce, and libertarians don't like the idea of the government paying for elections.

What I want is the equivalent of multilateral nuclear disarmament. Elections should be reduced to a period of three months (six including the primaries), with no paid advertisement whatsoever on political topics. The television stations should be required to put the candidates on in public forums (and get paid for their time). On this issue, I am willing to support measures in the interim which offset the disastrous trend that I see, but I will not let go of it until this poison on our political system is purged.

My Donation Strategy in 2012
I ignored virtually all appeals for money last year--I'm not interested in fattening anyone's war chest, as that just makes them more eager to do battle with their money. I will not be able to lay off entirely this year, as this election is--or could be--very consequential; however, I intend that any money I give this year will be accompanied by a personal statement (there are lots of opportunities to do it) that my #1 issue is campaign financing, and that I expect the candidates I support to be in favor of humans' political expression in years to come.

Today's Primary
I've already expressed my opinions enough: I don't expect today's Florida primary to change anything. Newt, Santorum, and Paul will hang around for a longer or shorter time, possibly doing some additional damage to Romney, but I feel that the outcome is inevitable. For the record, my prediction for Florida: Romney 41, Gingrich 34, Santorum 13, Paul 11. Santorum has done pretty well and will get some sympathy vote despite this being a winner-take-all primary in which he has no chance. Paul has already moved on to Maine, a caucus state in which he believes he can score some delegates.

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