2004 Issues (CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM)

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by David Remer July 22, 2003 --PoliWatch.Org--

The 1960's saw a social revolution brought on, in part, by a failure of the political parties to address the issues pressing upon lives of draftees, blacks and college youth. A similar revolution is taking place today but, the issues have changed. This article is the second in a series to discuss the social issues pressing on American voters as we move into the 2004 election cycle.

Political Fundraising is an election topic which is as important as any other facing voters in 2004. While this is a politically and constitutionally complicated subject, the heart of the matter is easy to get to. Note the following from a 1999 House committee hearing:

In the course of striking down several campaign finance reform measures in that case, the Buckley Court explained that ''[i]n the free society ordained by our Constitution, it is not the Government, but the people, individually as citizens and candidates, and collectively as associations and political committees who must maintain control over the quantity and range of debate on public issues in a political campaign.''
In this quote, chairperson Canady points directly at the issue for voters, whether 1st Amendment protection by way of funding political campaigns should extend to "associations and political committees". There is no debate that individuals should be able to contribute to the candidate or party of their choice but, a heated debate ensues over whether collective financing (e.g. unions and corporate lobby groups) to candidates and political parties should be permitted.

What is wrong with current campaign financing is the publicly perceived servitude of the election victor to the collective donors once he or she is in office. If the official knows they are going to need that collective financing for reelection in two, four or six years, will their law or policy making reflect the public good or the donor's interests? Far too often, it appears to the public that the donor's interests win out over public good. Democrats love to accuse Republicans of favoring corporate interests over public good and conversely, Republicans accuse of favoritism toward unions and trial lawyers. So, the issue is whether or not collective organizations should be permitted to contribute to candidates or parties?

The Constitutional Dilemma! There were no political parties when U.S. Constitution was drafted and George Washington was elected president. They appeared very shortly thereafter, however, as the advantage of collective voter affiliation toward one view over another became an obvious advantage in the next election.

The Supreme Court has established the central first amendment framework for campaign financing in Buckley vs. Valeo where money contributions were viewed as a protected form of speech. The first amendment protects the public's right to freedom of speech. It does not however, state that bribery is a protected form of speech. In fact, the Constitution in Article II, section 4 states an official shall be removed from office for accepting a bribe.

Therefore, the issue of campaign finance reform hinges upon the view of whether our politicians are in fact being bribed by contributions of large corporations and organized groups who fund, in the multi-millions of dollars, the election of candidates. In an excellent CACEF research of voter confidence in collective funding of officials, between 60 and 70 percent of respondents indicated concern over how such contributions affect elected officials performance in office. There are a host of other such research projects demonstrating similar results. If campaign finance reform is an issue with such widespread public interest, why is it so difficult to change the system?

Quite simply, the answer is because Democrats and Republicans would need to pass such legislation. Neither of these parties really wants campaign finance reform. Not only would large amounts of funding be cut off, but, predictability, campaign strategy and history, and issue orientation would completely be altered and thrown into the realm of the unpredictable. Both parties would find it difficult to predict or even develop campaign strategy where large collective interests were not there to support their elections and their platform positions. The parties would have to reinvent grass roots political support rather than rely heavily upon collective support for campaign funding. Even the parties issue campaigns would be thrown into question, since, they would have to shaped toward individual voter donations rather than corporate and organization donations.

Getting Campaign Finance Reform Anyway! The constitutional obstacle is surmountable. With the growth and pervasive intrusion of third parties upon national elections, the pressure on representatives incrementally grows to reform campaign financing. This is so, precisely because, third parties have campaign financing reform as key to their party platforms. See their positions at the end of this article. Or, campaign finance reform could come in one fell swoop with a constitutional amendment. One possible amendment would be:

Where money as political speech is concerned, only the the money collected from individual American citizens to a political party or an individual to a candidate shall be protected as speech under the first amendment of this constitution.

Such a constitutional amendment would be logistically very difficult, and improbable in the foreseeable future. Therefore, it is more likely that the pressure and influence of third party voters will bring about an incremental increase in campaign finance reform. If this issue is important to you as a voter, you will find the third party positions on campaign finance reform near the end of this article. It is very unlikely that meaningful campaign finance reform will come from the two major parties, alone. But, like so many other difficult issues facing Americans, there is the promise of finding solutions as more and more voters turn to the third parties for representation.

In his excellent work, Multiparty.Org, Matt Grossmann, points out the three potential sources for growing multipartism in America.

As Diana Dwyre and Robin Kolodny put it, "One can easily imagine three sources of change: pressure from within the major parties, the court system, and the ballot box."
Factions represented by the likes of Sen.'s John McCain and Russ Feingold can nudge campaign finance reform from within the two major parties, but, as we have seen in the last year, such reforms are too small and weak to have any major effect on the structure of influence peddling in campaign financing. The court system has the potential to move campaign finance reform along. However, it appears that the Supreme Court will be moving to a more conservative bent in the near future and such a court would not likely abridge current interpretation of money as free speech in favor of eliminating bribery at the campaign level.

That leaves the Ballot Box as the prime mover toward real campaign finance reform. The more voters who pull votes away from the two major parties and place them in one or another of the third parties, the greater the pressure will be on lawmakers to reform campaign financing. First, larger numbers of third party voters weaken the two major parties at the ballot box. This forces the two major parties to consider third party issues for competitive advantage in their next campaign. Second, more third party votes translates into a greater case of mandate for lawmakers like Feingold and McCain. Finally, the greater the number of voters who vote third party, the stronger third parties will become through party membership and hence, third party contributions. Third parties with greater financial resources will no doubt tackle the greatest obstacle to becoming a major party, which is the two party stranglehold on large donor collective campaign financing. This will no doubt raise the priority level of campaign finance reform as a platform issue in each of the third parties.

So, which third party should I support? I have decided it does not much matter. I personally like aspects of The Green Party and The Natural Law Party, but, have not found a third party that meets all my criteria. However, I have decided that the third party that will represent my values and ideals will only come to exist if I vote any third party candidate today.

As argued above, it is only with the growth of third party voters at the ballot box, that third parties will grow and thus pressure the two major parties to shape their policies toward those voters. Therefore, when I go to the ballot box, I have decided to vote for almost any third party candidate if they are on the ballot. As millions more Americans do the same, we will see true campaign finance reform that will foster the growth of multiple parties and focus partisan politics on the people's issues instead of lobbyist issues. And that is ultimately what we voters want, is it not?

Major third party positions on campaign finance reform:

From The Green Party 2000 platform:

Public Campaign and Party Financing: Equal public campaign financing and free broadcast media time for all candidates who agree not to use private money. Equal free broadcast media time for party broadcasts. Public financing of parties through matching funds for party dues and small donations up to $300 a year.

From the Libertarian Party 2000 platform:

We urge repeal of the Federal Election Campaign Act which suppresses voluntary support of candidates and parties, compels taxpayers to subsidize politicians and political views which many do not wish to support, invades the privacy of American citizens, and protects the Republican and Democratic parties from competition. This law is particularly dangerous as it enables the federal government to control the elections of its own administrators and beneficiaries, thereby further reducing its accountability to the citizens.

From the American Reform Party 2000 platform:

Reduce the influence of money and special interests in campaigns. Establish public funding options for clean elections and shorten election cycles. Eliminate soft money from corporations, unions, and wealthy individuals. Prompt Internet disclosure of campaign contributions and voting records. Lobbyists provide information, not money.

From the Natural Law Party 2000 platform:

Support long-overdue reforms to ensure (a) equal access to the ballot, the media, and the public for all qualified candidates, (b) the elimination of PAC and soft-money funding of campaigns, and (c) a shift toward public sponsorship of campaigns in order to reduce the undue influence of special interest groups on election outcomes. Such reforms will fulfill every American's right to complete information about all candidates and their platforms while freeing elected officials to focus on serving their country rather than seeking campaign contributions.
Encourage voter participation in the election process by shortening the campaign season to two months, making election day a national holiday, and abolishing the Electoral College. Restrict lobbying and limit congressional privileges.

Important issues facing voters in 2004: (Note: articles on issues in bold below can be found in the archives in the Third Party column.)

  • Voter party identification
  • Campaign Finance Reform.
  • Public vs. Private education.
  • Schools: Local Standards vs. National Standards.
  • Public Debt.
  • War Powers: congressional vs. executive.
  • Government: open or secret.
  • One party or multiple party government.
  • Economic Mix.
  • Lobbyist Power.
  • National Security: Offensive vs. Defensive.
  • Wealth Distribution.
  • Media Responsibility and Ownership.
  • Public Resources: To privatize or not.
  • Globalization: Diplomatic Leadership vs. Force.
  • Environment: Proactive vs. Reactive policy.
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    This page contains a single entry by David R. Remer published on July 23, 2003 10:22 PM.

    President Bush trapped by his own words. was the previous entry in this blog.

    2004 Issues (PUBLIC VS. PRIVATE SCHOOLS) is the next entry in this blog.

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