Thursday, September 3, 2009

Campaign Finance Reform

This all by itself is not much of a current topic but is connected in many ways to the larger debate over health care reform. Locally one of our Congressmen has been criticized for taking in more than $500K from the insurance industry.

This is not about him or health care.

Journalists are purported to be objective but this thin veneer wears … well, thin after awhile. We all bring our collective biases to the table for every discussion, every thing we write, conversations at the watercooler – whatever. We are hard pressed to be objective.

Why should politicians be any different?

I just heard this morning on Imus (rerun of an interview with Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone mag) that during his campaign (now) Pres. Obama received something just shy of $1 million from Goldman Sachs – a large Wall St. firm. Today on his staff are two people who used to work for Goldman Sachs. Hmmm.

I digress.

I propose a radical and likely impossible idea to reform the mechanisms of campaign finance: anonymous contributions.

Citizens should support candidates because they like what they stand for and in general they believe the candidate will do things they support, once elected and in office. I know, I know, naïveté reigns supreme in the minds and hearts of voters everywhere!

I am always reminded of a scene from an old movie, Power with Richard Gere where he played a political consultant helping candidates get elected. He suggested a candidate say something the candidate didn’t believe in. Of course the future pol balked but Gere’s character said something to the effect of ‘say it now and when you are elected, do whatever you want to do.’

If Goldman Sachs or the Health care insurers think that Obama and Blunt respectively are going to do things that will benefit their particular industries, then give away. But Obama and Blunt should never know. They should simply see a deposit made to their campaign accounts.

It would take a 3rd party (not political) apparatus to manage all this. I write a check (or go on-line since people don’t write checks anymore) to Obama or Blunt but I send it to some newly created organization – a not-for-profit answerable to a board made up of a balance between representatives of all registered political parties and perhaps even able to handle people with no party affiliation.

This not-for-profit takes a small, very small, % for administration and then deposits the funds into the candidates account. All the candidate knows is that on a certain date, so much money went into their account.

This not-for-profit could be audited after every election cycle to ensure things were being handled properly.

If candidates’ contributions dropped, then maybe they aren’t really as popular as they appeared. Maybe the level of contributions had/has more to do with how easily the special interest groups think they can get their way.

One thing this could do is eliminate contribution limits. What difference does it make if I give $1 below an arbitrary limit? (The limits currently imposed say to me that someone somewhere thinks that there can be influence where amounts ABOVE a certain threshold are involved)

Those special interests would still hope their candidate would be supportive of the things (or lack of things) that will benefit their industry or cause. But no candidate could be beholden to them if he/she didn’t know where the money came from. Assumptions could be made of course but there’d still be that protective layer of anonymity.

I know this is nowhere near as simple as I am making it out to be but for any of us to believe that “money doesn’t talk …” as the old saying goes, is naïve.

Don Henley and Glen Frey have a line in the song Frail Grasp of the Big Picture that goes: “And the right will prevail, all our troubles will be resolved. We have faith in the Lord, unless there’s money or sex involved.”

I doubt we can ever take sex out of the picture but we can work on the money.

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