Monday, November 06, 2006

Money and Elections

This is what is called an Off-Year election. A minor election for 1/3 of the Senate, all of the House and a bunch of Governors, but no President. And yet, the campaigns and outriders together spent over $2,600,000,000, that's 2.6 BILLION dollars!
Where did that money go?
Where did that money come from?
The answer to the first Q is simple; It went to Television ads. (disclaimer: I don't have or watch Tv, so on this I rely on testimony of others who do) The last few weeks have been wall to wall political ads on most every channel. That's a huge influx of cash into corporate coffers.
Where it comes from is also pretty simple: it comes from contributors, usually rich people and corporations. By the wheelbarrow load. Despite contribution limits. And that begs the Q. Why?
Well, that's simple too. Contributors are betting that the candidate will win and will remember them when the contributor is in front of them in their official capacity.
See? Simple. It's got other names, too: Bribery, Graft, Corruption...
Sometimes it works the other way around, that is, the candidate extorts money from potential victims of his committees. Either way, the massive fundraising for running campaigns distorts the process that follows the election, that is governance. As Molly Ivins says, "you gotta dance with the ones that brung ya".
So.
What to do?
Not so simple.
Before anything else can be put into effect, we've got to make one thing clear. Corporations are not humans. They are fictive entities composed of humans, but they do not have the rights of actual, individual humans. Corporations are taxed differently, they can't register to vote, they aren't subject to the same penalties for crimes. A corporation "lives" in many places at once, including across international borders.
It is an instrument designed to shield it's constituent owners and operators from responsibility. A corporation that kills 12,000 people because fixing the valves at a chemical plant would hurt their profitability can not be put to death for those murders. A corporation the steals millions or billions of dollars from our treasury can not be jailed, taken out of circulation to prevent them from committing more crimes.
Due to a clerical summary to a Supreme Court case, Santa Clara vs Southern Pacific Railroad, in the Robber Baron Era (not the decision of the judges, but a spinning of the summary by a biased Court Reporter) corporations have been claiming human rights throughout the Twentieth Century. Coupled with that, the Buckley vs Valeo decision equates money with speech, as in limiting the amount of money one donates to a cause is the same as limiting what you may say in favor of that cause. You see the flaw there, right?
Individuals can't yell loud enough to be heard over the roar of the corporations' megaphones.
We need to make a legal case that makes clear that corporations are NOT persons and do NOT enjoy the rights of people, that corporate money is NOT protected free speech.
Whether that is brought about by Initiatives or State Legislators or through the Courts, that is the necessary first step to straightening out the mess we're in.
Step 2. We, the People, own the airwaves. Tv and Radio rent bandwidth from US (at ridiculously low prices) and they make, literally, fortunes off of them. Cable is a regulated monopoly, licensed by US. They all have in their lease agreements, obligations for Public Service Announcements (PSAs), basically advertising public interest info, unpaid.
If we insisted that all political advertising be in the form of PSAs that the Media were obliged to run, allocated on a proportional basis to all candidates and limited in number, events like Debates would become much more valuable for informing voters. And the cost of campaigning would be reduced to travel expenses and printing signs.
Outside, 527-style "Issue ads" that benefited one candidate or one party, one corporation or industry sector, would be considered as bribes (see below). Groups like the SwiftBoatLiars and NAM that have huge financial resources can not be allowed to drown out the discourse.
The obvious result here is that by eliminating the obscene expense of Media in a campaign, we reduce the amount of fundraising needed and that's good because:
Step 3. Is that the Taxpayer (that's US) must pick up the tab for elections.
ANY money, gift or service offered to a sitting politician is a bribe.
Elected officials must completely divest themselves of ALL ownership shares and/or options, public or private, of any companies they hold. No Blind Trusts or Mutual Funds or Offshore Ownership or any of those tricks. The Representatives of the People can not serve Wall Street and US simultaneously.
Maybe that eliminates a small number of very rich people that can't afford to take a job that "only" pays $250 000/Year, so be it. Millionaires are over-represented, currently, working people are unrepresented.
By the way, Job Offers are bribes of a sort, too. Many of the Bushies came into regulatory agencies from the industries that they would regulate, formulated regulations that profited those corporations mightily then quit government to take lucrative jobs at those companies, lobbying the agencies and committees that they had previously sat on. It may be a delayed bribe, but it is a bribe nonetheless. The revolving door needs to have a two year cooling off period in it.
Under Public funding, Incumbents receive Treasury funds to finance their campaigns. Challengers that are not in public office can raise private funds, but they are matched for the incumbent dollar for dollar. When both candidates are ineligible for private funds (e.g. one is incumbent and the other is an office holder) or if the challenger chooses not to raise outside funds, there is a formula for an equitable public funding of both candidates. If we want representation, we have to be willing to pay for it, otherwise, politicians will represent those who help them get in.
In Modern America, this almost amounts to a vow of poverty on the part of those who would govern US. It ensures that greeedy people move on after a term or two. That the people who stick with it are highly dedicated people who can live modestly.
I've got to say something about Lobbyists here. Lobbying arose from people collaring their congressman in the Lobby and pleading their case. It's now a huge and very slimy business. To a great extent, the Lobbying firms of K-Street are conduits of cash from rich special interests to congressional and bureaucratic staff with various degrees of quid pro quo attached. This didn't appear overnight, it's been growing since the 80s, but the current misAdministration and Congressional "Leadership" have developed a synergy with K Street that has turned the US Treasury into a cash dispensing machine for well connected companies.
If public officials can not accept so much as lunch, K Street will be boarded up.
Then we will have taken the money out of politics and taken our Nation back from the Thugs that have brought US so low.
There are several other election reforms that would make our system a "more perfect union": Instant RunOff Voting is one, Direct Election, that is: not via the Electoral College, verifiable paper trail voting machines with open source, publicly owned software, making Election Day a holiday... but all those are for another article or two.

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