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.


Carol Becker
Geek and Public Policy Wonk
Future Member, Board of Estimate and Taxation

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