Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Campaign Finance Case - Money in Politics is a Problem

Houston, we've got a problem. Our democratic Republic is being threatened by money in politics.

And the Supreme Court is enabling this problem, most recently in its FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life decision yesterday, where the Court held that certain restrictions on corporate and union spending in the weeks before an election are unconstitutional. (By contrast, the Court upheld such advertising restrictions when the McCain-Feingold Campaign Spending law first came before the Court four years ago.)

Normally I'm all for an expansive reading of the Bill of Rights and of other individual rights, privileges, liberties and immunities - but there are no absolutes; on this, as with most things in life, there are limits. The First Amendment "Money-as-Speech" doctrine, as first enunciated by the Court in the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo case, has run amok, and threatens our very democracy by elevating the power of money in politics.

The fact is that to have any hope of being elected to office in America today, a person must either be rich or know people who are rich - or know someone who can raise a ton of money (who all-too-often use questionable tactics - Jack Abramoff). The ordinary citizen simply does not qualify on any of these counts.

When our representatives are so beholden to "special interests" - corporations, unions, lobbyists, ... whomever - their independence and ability to represent our interests are compromised. I don't care what you say - if a politician's main goal is to be re-elected (and don't kid yourself - that's the main goal of most politicians), and x dollars are needed in order to re-elected, and there's a campaign contributor who can provide a major portion of x dollars, there's a very real danger that the politician is going to be unduly influenced by that contributor, to the detriment of other constituents. Other constituents' voices are unfairly diminished - only if the constituents have money, and are willing to spend it on the politician, do they effectively have their voices heard.

I read somewhere recently a couple (imperfect) analogies: if we were to offer the decisionmaker in a court case - the judge - $100 beforehand to attempt to influence her decision, we call it a bribe; if we were to offer the decisionmaker in a baseball game - the umpire - $100 beforehand to attempt to influence his decision, we call it a bribe; whereas if we offer $100 (or more likely, $10,000 or $100,000) beforehand to the decisionmaker in politics - the elected representative - we call it a campaign contribution.

Does anyone smell a rat? Something ain't right here....