I agree with the folks who have called for public financing of campaigns.
One of the worst things that one has to do as a candidate is fund raise. If
you want to get your message out, you need to have vehicles to do that,
whether it is campaign literature, ads, t-shirts, parade spots, buttons,
lawn signs, or whatever. You need money to run as a candidate. There is no
way around it.
When I first met with my campaign manager, she said I was going to have to
raise $6000 for my race. Now anyone who ran for Council or Mayor is
laughing at this puny amount but I will be honest, I had to about sit down
and put my head between my knees. I was taught to be self-reliant by my
family and the thought of begging for that much money made my skin crawl.
Now I was amazingly lucky. I was able to raise $5000 without having to
actually ask anyone for money. I never had a fundraiser, which probably
would have had my head between my knees again. People were amazingly kind.
Joe was out of work, didn't know when he was going to get a job, still gave
me $20. Other people just sent money, which just blew me away because this
meant that they gave up something to support me - dinner out with their
family, maybe some music they love, something for their kid, I don't know.
As humbled I was by people choosing to do this, it also bothered me that
they had to give things up to support me. It felt like a commercialization
of the political process. Why should people have to give up their hard
earned money to be a participant in democracy? And yes, I know that people
can volunteer but they volunteer to drop literature (which took money to
make) or make phone calls (which took money to get the lists) or to even
bake things for other volunteers (which also took money to get ingredients).
You can't get away from money in politics.
As to the question of accepting funds from groups who may want things from
you later, it is really hard to find people who will give you their hard
earned money who don't have some stake in what you are going to do. We can
try to decide what is "good" interest (say the soccer mom trying to get more
funding for her kids programs) and what is "bad" interest (the forum has
pegged developers in this category) but "good" and "bad" may just depend on
your perspective as they both are trying to get something from government.
If you are the person needing housing, maybe you think the developer is a
godsend. If you are someone trying to get funding for adult athletics, you
may not be so thrilled at the success of the soccer mom.
And the other problem is that you don't know what your opponent is doing.
Think of it this way. Say you have an ethical and an unethical person. The
ethical person passes on money from special interest groups because they
know they would have conflicts later. The unethical person takes the money
and has conflicts later. Ethical person gets trounced because they get
outspent. So because you don't know what your opponent is doing, you end up
taking the risk This is how the system is set up.
The solution is no private money in elections. Other countries do it. We
could do it too. The problem is no one wants to disarm first. It is a real
dilemma because how do you fix a broken legislative process when the
incentives are for legislators not to fix it? They all got there through the
broken process. The powers that be are invested in that broken process.
Most places that have had true campaign finance reform have done it through
grass roots referendums, bypassing the legislative branch.
In my copious spare time, I am working on my PhD in public administration
over at Hamline. There is a really good book, "Government's End" by
Jonathan Rauch which talks about the iron triangle of politicians who need
votes and money; lobbyists who orga nize special interests and in turn get
prestigious jobs; and special interests who get special dispensation from
government and in return deliver votes and money to politicians, having been
organized by lobbyists. It really explains why government, especially at the
federal level simply won't work any more (hence the name). It also helped
me to understand that the problem isn't just in electing better or different
people - the system itself is broken. If you haven't read it, you might
want to think about it because it was really helped me understand this
system even as I was dipping my toes into it.
Geek and Public Policy Wonk
Future Member, Board of Estimate and Taxation
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