More Tax Supported Elections

Brad Smith, Chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics points to recently introduced legislation that would increase taxpayer subsidies for federal elections by some 400 percent. Every year when you file your tax return, there is a box on your return that asks if you want to contribute $3 dollars to the presidential campaign financing program (I once had a tax preparer tell me I had to check the box—I no longer employ her services).

As Brad Smith points out

[P]residential races are substantially subsidized by taxpayers, to the tune of approximately $60 million or more per year. Over the years, taxpayers have been forced to subsidize three presidential campaigns by John Hagelin of the Natural Law Party, whose platform was based on a call for more transcendental meditation; seven presidential campaigns by Lyndon LaRouche, including one run from Federal Prison; and two by Lenore Fulani of the defunct New Alliance Party. They have also been forced to pay for runs by "major party candidates" such as Larry Agran, Milton Schaap, Keating Five Senator Alan Cranston, and many other long-forgotten figures. They have paid for balloon drops at national party conventions, and campaign attack ads - all told, over $2.4 billion in current dollars.
That is a lot of green to pay for all kinds of speech that at least half the country, on average, disagrees with on a regular basis.

In 2000 and 2004, President Bush declined public matching funds since taking matching funds carries with it all kinds of restrictions, including limits, on when and how the funds can be spent. Additionally, the private money raised by candidates that serves as the basis for the matching funds also is limited in the manner in which it is spent. In 2000, Bush was blasted for his actions--which were clearly in his best interest. In 2004, both Howard Dean and John Kerry declined public financing. I suspect that in 2008 both the leading Republican and Democratic candidates, no matter who they are, will forgo public financing--and they should.

Realizing that most national campaigns depend heavily upon significant fundraising machines, that fundraising machine should not be the American taxpayer. That is exactly what Russ Feingold is trying to do along with his House partners Marty Meehan and Christopher Shays. According to the Fact Sheet put out by Senator Feingold, the bill would increase by the current public funding match from 1 to 1 to 4 to for the first $200 of a contribution to a candidate. So instead of doubling the money a candidate gets, the money is quadrupled! Additionally, instead of matching starting on January 1 of election year, it will begin on July 1 of the year prior, almost doubling the length of time candidates can receive public money.

But here is my personal favorite provision, one that punishes candidates who opt out of the system by boosting their opponents:

Provides that if a candidate who is not participating in the public financing system raises or spends more than 20% more than a primary spending limit, the spending limit for all of the participating candidates of that party is increased by $50 million, indexed for inflation. An additional 1:1 match of eligible contributions will also be made available to all participating candidates.
Russ Feingold has aspirations to the Presidency and clearly this law would benefit him greatly in his quest for the Presidency.

Brad Smith talks of priorities for the tax money that is to be allocated for the presidential campaign system

Leaving aside fundamental philosophical questions of whether it is ever proper to force taxpayers to support the political speech of candidates they oppose, or ignoring the particulars of this proposal, the question of tax financing of campaigns becomes one of priorities. In the great scheme of the federal budget, the subsidy is not a lot - although even at current levels it is enough to fund, for example, the entire budget of the Consumer Products Safety Commission.

But it is exactly those philosophical questions we should be answering. Should the goverment be funding political speech? At a time when more and more political activity is being regulated, through the efforts of Feingold himself and others, where do we draw the line? At what point do we stop allowing the government to tell us, and the canddiates we support or oppose, when and how much political speech is proper. Should the government be subsidizing the four day infomercials knows as party conventions? Should the government be in the business of paying for attack ads, negative campaigning and the like?

The Presidential funding system was established in the wake of Watergate, a time when the funding of presidential campaigns was not transparent; where big, anonymous donors probably called the shots a great deal. But the system is an anachronism today. The fact that Presidential campaigns must file campaign finance reports on a monthly basis, the low itemization threshold of $200 per cotnributor, the current $2100 per election limit per person, and the speed and efficiency of electronic filing means that knowing who is paying for the campaign of any candidate is made easy for the press, and therefore the public.

Milton Freidman once said that if you want more of something, subsidize it. But more regulations on campaigns, even ones the supposedly are designed to increase competition by subsidy is not the way. Poltical subsideis, like all subsidies, tend to decrease compeition, not increase it.

I love and embrace the idea of competitive elections, but competition in elections comes from dynamic candidates, capable of energizing the voters, and yes, convincing the voters to give them money. Competitive elections can only be grown through the rough and tumble of electoral politics and the growth of energetic and engaging candidates, capable of finding their own way by raising the money for the campaigns themselves.

Competitive elections cannot be subsidized; they cannot be bought through public expenditures.

Posted by Matt Johnston at July 28, 2006 8:52 AM
Comments
Comment #171351

Public funding of elections is probably the only way to save us from the corporate money ruining this Country.

Posted by: j2t2 at July 28, 2006 9:44 AM
Comment #171353

Matt, admittedly my research of this issue consisted of 10 minutes spent just now reading material from the first link you provided, but as I understand it, we are talking about increasing the amount of money taxpayers can voluntarily divert to presidential campaigns using that check box on our IRS forms. If that is correct (and maybe it’s not), then I don’t see how, as Brad Smith says in the passage you quoted, the government is forcing taxpayers to fund political speech. (Though I guess the argument could be made that that check box money is not being used by the government for other uses, and therefore those that don’t check the box are indirectly being forced to fund political speech.)

At any rate, rather than seeing proposals such as this one, I’d much rather see a system in which campaigns can only be funded by donor contributions (with some arbitrary but relatively low maximum contribution — the limits now are fine with me), donors being defined as individuals and not entities such as PACS or corporations etc., etc. A lot of issues, I know, including very important first amendment ones.

Unfortunately, the continued increased in money spent on presidential campaigns does not seem to have improved the level of the debate.

Posted by: Trent at July 28, 2006 9:54 AM
Comment #171366

j2t2,

If it’s a good idea and we should be doing it, why not make it voluntary? What’s with the forced contribution notion?

And corporate money already runs the country, so your premise that this prevents that is laughable.

Posted by: Rhinehold at July 28, 2006 10:17 AM
Comment #171370

Trent,

I think the issue was that the money is given to all campaigns, so you could be funding all kinds of people you don’t necessarily agree with.

Posted by: Rhinehold at July 28, 2006 10:22 AM
Comment #171373

Rhinehold,

Well, yeah, some of my money goes to campaigns I don’t support, but I know that, so I’m not being forced.

Posted by: Trent at July 28, 2006 10:28 AM
Comment #171376

The single greatest problem our nation faces is the way special interests “own” our politicians.

From the moment a person gets elected his or her most important mission is to get reelected and the special interests beat a path to their door to supply the dollars for increasingly expensive
campaigns. What this gets them is “access” when they have a problem and that access comes with plausible reasons for “seeing it” their way and often comes with draft legislation to satisfy their needs. Seldom are they asked to do anything that is overtly wrong but just a seldom are they acting in the best interests of the people of America if their is a corporate or other special interest involved.

By the way someone whose bio indicates the have been a paid lobbyist and are now a consultant to PAC’s is hardly an impartial observer of this problem since they have a vested interest in the current system.

Posted by: Terlen at July 28, 2006 10:34 AM
Comment #171381

Terlen, I used to write Notices for the Federal Register on the topic of improving energy efficiency in Public Housing Authorities. To create these notices we often had to talk with people with vested interests because, well, they often very good information and insights. I don’t want to overstate that because of course sometimes people argue against good public policy in favor of their own interests — but at the same time I don’t think we should discredit a source merely because of a vested interest.

Posted by: Trent at July 28, 2006 10:46 AM
Comment #171382

Trent,

Just because you know that money is going to campaigns you don’t support doesn’t mean you are not being forced. True, you are not being forced to “check the box,” but why should your tax money be diverted for political speech you don’t agree with, with or without your knowledge.

Your only option is to check or not check the box. If you check the box, you are forced to accept that you have no control over where you money goes.

Posted by: Matt Johnston at July 28, 2006 10:51 AM
Comment #171383

90% of elections are won by the candidate that spends the most money.

In year 2000, 85% of all federal contributions ($2.4 billion) were from a tiny 1% of the U.S. population that has vast wealth and power.

Now, ask yourself, how can I you, and 99% of the U.S. population ever hope to compete against that?

Yet, Americans see a TV ad, or an incumbent political ad, and that’s who they vote for. It’s more about visibility than qualifications. No wonder some say we’re all sheep.

Re-electing irresponsible, bought-and-paid-for, greedy, do-nothing, FOR-SALE, corrupt incumbent politicians will only make politicians more corrupt.

You’d think people would eventually see the correlation. Hmmmm, I voted for this bozo three times, and he and government are more corrupt than ever. What should I do? Hmmmmm, I know … I think I’ll vote for someone else next time. Duh!

But, no. That’s not what happens. Voters keep re-electing the very same irresponsible incumbent politicians, keep pulling the straight-party ticket lever, keep empowering the very same people that use and abuse them. No wonder their arrogance grows exponentially. No wonder they think they can hide $90K in bribes in their freezer and get away with it. Even if they get caught, they can get a presidential pardon, like the 140 felons pardoned by Clinton (many who even pled guilty, like Dan Rostenkowski). Wonder who Bush will pardon before he leaves office? Delay? Abramoff?

For example, look at what your illustrious Congress is doing while our troops risk life and limb in an unnecessary war based on faulty intelligence (possibly, lies).

Why do we keep re-electing these people ?

Look at the incumbency rates …
The House has over a 96% re-election rate.
In 2000, the Senate had a 90% re-election rate.

See the correlation ?
Hmmmm. There might just be a connection between bad government and re-electing them? No ?

Here’s what we need …

Posted by: d.a.n at July 28, 2006 10:52 AM
Comment #171397

Matt, maybe we’re just arguing semantics on the check box thing. I know when I check the box that some money goes to campaigns I don’t support, but I check it anyway in the perhaps mistaken belief that it somehow limits the influence of corporate money. I really want a system in which money loses some power. Given that the wealthiest people control a massive amount of this country’s wealth, it seems fundamentally unfair in a system based on one-person, one-vote for money to be so important to elections.

My ideal system — the ONLY money that can be used for campaigns is that which comes from individual donors — and the maximum contribution one that even a poor person can afford. I know this is pie in the sky.

Posted by: Trent at July 28, 2006 11:22 AM
Comment #171400

I never check that box.
They get enough to wa$te already.
And wa$te, they do.
There’$ already too much money wa$ted on the whole proce$$.
A mere 1% of the U.$. population $pent 83% ($2 trillion) on federal campaign$. The remaining 99% of the U.$. population can’t compete with that.
Ju$t think what could be accompli$hed with the $2.4 billion.
Government is FOR $ALE.
Ever noticed how many politician$ vote NO to ban $oft money donations, campaign donation$, etc.? Check out their voting record$.

Incumbent politician$ will never reform them$elve$, will continue to re$i$t countle$$ common-$en$e, no-brainer reform$, alway$ outnumber newcomer$ to Congre$$, pre$$ure the newcomer$ to Congre$$ to accept the corruption and look the other way, will never voluntarily pa$$ any campaign finance and election reform$ , and all other reform$ of any kind are also futile until voters do the one simple thing there were supposed to do all along. Perhaps we should stop re-electing irresponsible incumbent politician$ ?

Posted by: d.a.n at July 28, 2006 11:32 AM
Comment #171402
My ideal system — the ONLY money that can be used for campaigns is that which comes from individual donors — and the maximum contribution one that even a poor person can afford. I know this is pie in the sky.

That’s a very good start.

Government was never supposed to be FOR $ALE.

Posted by: d.a.n at July 28, 2006 11:34 AM
Comment #171403

Oppps. Bad link?
That’s a very good start. (limit the money).

Posted by: d.a.n at July 28, 2006 11:36 AM
Comment #171404

Ofcouse, as you said:

… it is pie in the sky.

Yes, as long as we keep re-electing irresponsible incumbent politicians.

But, rest assured, some day, voters will discover that very thing that’s been right under their nose all along. Unfortunately, it will most likely only be after they have ignored the problem far too long, making it much harder on themselves and future generations.

Posted by: d.a.n at July 28, 2006 11:40 AM
Comment #171410

The “box” is about providing funding for candidates that don’t have a national fundraising machine backing them up. That means its mostly candidates that no one agrees with, but thats the whole point. It is in the best interest of the nation to give voice to even the most out-there candidate, if for no other reason than to make mainstream candidates look at issue sthey could comfortably ignore in a two party race. Don’t like it? Don’t check the box.

Posted by: David S at July 28, 2006 12:01 PM
Comment #171413
Your only option is to check or not check the box. If you check the box, you are forced to accept that you have no control over where you money goes.

Matt,

If you don’t want your money to go to political speech you don’t agree with, then simply don’t check the box and then send your 3 bucks to the candidate you do support. What’s the big deal?

Posted by: JayJay Snow at July 28, 2006 12:09 PM
Comment #171415

Matt, I’m not sure how far you want to push the we’re-being-forced-to-support-campaigns-we-don’t-like thing.

When I buy product X from company Y, sometimes company Y pays lobbyists to push politicians in directions I don’t like. At least with the IRS check-box, I know what I’m getting into. But unless I take the time to research the companies producing EVERY item I buy, I don’t know how they are using money in ways I don’t agree with.

At any rate, why are you so concerned with how my $3 (or $10, under the new proposal, I guess) is spent? At least it’s my choice to check that little box — I don’t have much say in how gas companies use money for political purposes.

Posted by: Trent at July 28, 2006 12:14 PM
Comment #171417
If you don’t want your money to go to political speech you don’t agree with, then simply don’t check the box and then send your 3 bucks to the candidate you do support. What’s the big deal?

JayJay,

The big deal is that campaigns should not be tax supported in any way, whether through voluntary tax check off or not. I know that people check the box voluntarily, but such a funding mechanism creates a government sponsored speech regime and a need to feed the public money machine. The problem is that if few people check the box then very little money goes into the system, a problem even now. If there is not enough money in the system now, how will we ever fund a presidential funding system with the increased allowances Feingold advocates? Where does it end? Is the next step a compulsory deduction because the government can’t get enough money?

Better to not have a system at all than one that keeps demanding more money from volunteers and possibly even everyone.

Posted by: Matt Johnston at July 28, 2006 12:21 PM
Comment #171420

Matt,

Why do Democrats & Republicans need public financing anyway? I don’t think any candidate that has a national network of support should be eligable for the matching money. It should really only be used to level the playing field for candidates that are not affiliated with a national support system, like the DNC & RNC.

The problem is that unless you belong to one of the two big parties then your voice doesn’t really count. How do you know you don’t agree with the political speech of an independent candidate if you never hear what s/he has to say?

I think the box should stay, but it should be made clear that if you check the box it goes to candidates that don’t have the massive support system of the DNC or RNC.

Posted by: JayJay Snow at July 28, 2006 12:31 PM
Comment #171421

Matt and everyone,

I think one difficulty we have in discussing this is that we really need to consider the IRS check-box thing in a larger context of campaign financing in general. I can see myself readily agreeing with a proposal to get rid of tax-payer campaign funding if other concerns involving fundamental fairness are addressed. As a start, I’d love to see, as I said above, a system whereby only voters (not PACS, not business entities, not anything but a voter) can contribute a relatively low amount. (I don’t think the quality of debate has much to do with massive spending on silly TV ads.)

Posted by: Trent at July 28, 2006 12:31 PM
Comment #171422

The [X] check box for $3 ox is for the presidential campaign, and epitomizes the hipocrisy of government and incumbent politicians, as if they needed more from the $2.4 billion already contributed to federal elections ($2.0 billion from a mere 1% of the U.S. population).

That’s just great.
Now those that abuse vast wealth and power will also dupe voters into paying for it too by checking the little box.

Let’s see: 200 million returns times $3 is $600 million. Not bad.

The problem is allowing large donations, which is nothing more than buying government.

Government was never supposed to be FOR SALE.

Currently, a mere 1% of the U.S. population contributed 83% ($2 billion) to federal campaigns in year 2000. How can the remaining Americans (who contributed only $0.4 billion) compete with those with vast wealth and power? They can’t. It’s wrong. Duh! But, no matter how wrong it is, don’t expect bought-and-paid-for, greedy, corrupt incumbent politicians to ever voluntarily vote for election and campaign finance reform. Look at their voting records. Most vote repeatedly to refuse any form of campaign and election finance.

The common-sense thing to do is limit the amount that any person or organization can donate (e.g. 10% of the average American’s annual income).

But, it will never happen if voters keep re-electing those very same incumbent politicians.

Posted by: d.a.n at July 28, 2006 12:32 PM
Comment #171427

I have never checked the box and never will. It has never and won’t ever stop PAC money.
The only way to stop special interest money is through true campaign finance reform. Two rules that need to be put in place and strictly enforced are.
1. No more than $100 per household per campaign.
2. NO CORPORATE OR SPECIAL INTREST CONTRIBUTIONS.
These two rules will help keep our politicians accountable to those that elect them. Not those that finance them.
In a time when this country is facing out of control debt, out of control spending leading to that debt, and at least $1,000,000,000 a day in interest on that debt the question is. DO WE REALLY NEED TO BE SPEND FEDERAL MONEY ON POLITICAL CAMPAIGNS?
The politicians say yes because they want more money. The voters need to say NO!
It’s our money and our kids futures at stake here. It’s long past time for the voters to take control back from the politicians.

Posted by: Ron Brown at July 28, 2006 12:52 PM
Comment #171430

Ron Brown,

That’s a good idea.
$100 per household, for 150 million households, would provide plenty: $15 billion.

Think about it though.

Ain’t it sad that we waste so much time and energy to create such a corrupt government?

And you’re right. A lot of contributions are spent on personal items; not for campaigns. I could list thousands of examples of this type of abuse, and few if any that were ever indicted or fined or admonished in any way for doing it (proof of the rampant corruption).


Posted by: d.a.n at July 28, 2006 1:00 PM
Comment #171443

Matt:

You say you don’t want to fund candidates you do not agree with. Well, I don’t like the current system because I fund individuals I don’t agree with.

Here’s what happens: A rich donor gives lots of money to a candidate who gets elected. After election, the candidate votes in favor of a bill that provides subsidies to the rich donor or his corporation. I am funding these rich donors.

I would much rather fund a system that enables each candidate to be competitive (as you say). Of course, I will disagree with some candidates. But look at it this way: I am not funding any candidate. I am funding a system that will deal with all candidates in as equitable a manner as possible. I’m funding democracy, not candidates.

Posted by: Paul Siegel at July 28, 2006 2:06 PM
Comment #171445

This is my first post.

I don’t know exactly how campaign financing works but what if we have 5 candidates running for office and there’s $500 million set aside as part of a government’s budget that is use to give to these candidates and it is divided evenly for the purpose of campaigning. So each would get $100 million each and they do what they want with it but they are constrained with just this $$ amount and is not allowed to raise any more $$ beyond what they are given. On top of that, they can be audited on what they spent the $$ on.

Will that work?

Posted by: Jay at July 28, 2006 2:14 PM
Comment #171446

Whatever happened to freedom of speech? I know that dirty politicians need to go, but people still have the Constitutional right to support those they wish to. I support PACs. I don’t like the inordinate amount of influence they, corporations and fat cats have, but all of those have the right to financially support those they wish. It falls to the media to show the level of corruption in politics (fairly and without bias) and to the voters to see through the monetary cloud and through out corrupt incumbents.

Posted by: Silima at July 28, 2006 2:16 PM
Comment #171452

Silima,

  • A tiny 1% of the U.S. population (the vastly wealthy) paid 83% ($2.0 billion) to federal political contributions.
  • How can the remaining 99% of Americans compete with that, when their total contributions are only 17% ($0.4 billion)?

Is that what you call freedom speech ?
The ability to purchase the government you want ?

No wonder bought-and-paid-for incumbent politicians are puppets to their big-money-donor puppeteers.

Is that what you want ?

If so, then you should be happy.

That is exactly what we have.

But, someday, when the brainwashed voters have wise up (motivated by the best education there is: pain and misery of their own making), they have a very simple, common-sense mechanism right under their very own noses to defeat the system of corruption. Stop re-electing irresponsible incumbent politicians. That’s all. That’s what we were always supposed to do. But partisan warfare gets in the way. Politicians love to fuel it, creating a circular pattern to control both the voters, conflict, resolution of differences, and then lead everyone involved into a new cycle of conflicts (often the same detractor (e.g. partisan warfare), or perhaps a different one (e.g. pitting Americans and illegal aliens against each other, etc.)).

Posted by: d.a.n at July 28, 2006 2:57 PM
Comment #171455

David S and Paul Siegel have it right, I always check the box. However, while public funding helps, the problem of money will persist because of PACs that put up ads on “issues” and are not “connected” to any particular campaign. Yeah right. I don’t see how you can prevent this end around without violating the first amendment, so once again, money wins.
The problem is that eighty-five percent of us are sheep
and exist only to be sold via propaganda, marketing and bribing. As far as throwing the bums out, gerrymandering will always insure that doen’t happen.

Posted by: Rene at July 28, 2006 3:24 PM
Comment #171456

Ron B…

Interesting idea…
Would you allow people to use their own money?

Posted by: Cliff at July 28, 2006 3:26 PM
Comment #171457

Oooops, guess I don’t know how to link. Edit post might be a nice feature.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/11009379/

Posted by: Rene at July 28, 2006 3:26 PM
Comment #171459

Why?

As if politicians need more from the $2.4 billion already contributed to federal elections ($2.0 billion, 83% from a mere 1% of the U.S. population) ?

Posted by: d.a.n at July 28, 2006 3:28 PM
Comment #171460
Democrats and Republicans alike are adept at making decisions without letting the facts get in the way, a new study shows.

That’s why I don’t belong to any party.

Posted by: d.a.n at July 28, 2006 3:30 PM
Comment #171461

It’s called: brainwashing

Posted by: d.a.n at July 28, 2006 3:31 PM
Comment #171462

Thanks for the link Rene.
It confirms what I suspected.
I used to be a Republican, but somehow go de-programmed.
So, that should give you all some hope.

: )

Posted by: d.a.n at July 28, 2006 3:34 PM
Comment #171467

The 1% of the folks that own 48% of the wealth in this country pretty much have it the way they want it. When limits are contemplated to campaign contributions by corporations, they scream about their rights to free speech being limited. Lord knows money does ‘talk’.

Each and every election decides not only who rules the country, but gives the power of access to Trillions and trillions of dollars and how those dollars will be used to make more money.

These people have nothing but contempt for the masses that vote—the people are sheep to be manipulated and conjoled and disenfranchised when they are aroused by some pointless argument power has concocted, and ignored and despised when they are asleep. Which is most of the time.

And now there’s mounting evidence that federal elections have been undermined and corrupted by touch-screen voting machines that were meant to fix the 2000 election problems of hanging chads and butterfly ballots. To the point that many rational, well-educated and commited people question the legitimacy of the voting process to begin with.

The very legitimacy of this government is in question. Half the eligible voters in this country don’t even bother to vote. Primaries around the nation have become a joke in most cases, with turnouts of 40, 35, even 30%. Why? Because there is no sense that they really have a choice, that even if they do vote, their representatives are not responsive to their concerns, that the system has been bought. Are they wrong?

This country is badly in need of another revolution. This government has become the stodgy, corrupt, power-serving, elitist British Crown that we fired over two hundred years ago.

Revolution is a very dangerous business. This country was blessed with some of the greatest political and social thinkers of their time—perhaps of any time, in 1775. Revolution is casting the dice, it is a leap of faith, it is a belief that the status quo has become so damaging to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, that contemplating another five years of tyranny is unthinkable.

I am convinced that at least half of the Founding Fathers (and most of the Founding Mothers) would be advocating a change of government today.

The shining beacon of liberty isn’t here in this country anymore. More often than not, this country is an impedement to freedom and democracy. The real front lines in the fight for law, justice and democratic freedoms isn’t here—it’s in the Ukraine, in Romania, in Mexico, people that want it so much, they go into the streets to fight for it. The spark of liberty is found in the prisons of Columbia, Turkey, China and Indonesia.

I call for a national convention, a new Constitutional convention, that will discuss and map out a new direction for this country and a new government. I think it important that none of the state delegates be involved in government or hold elective office. I believe the great thinkers and teachers now in private life, labor leaders, corporate leaders, educators of every political stripe and economic viewpoint should be there.

Then, create a new government. We can’t keep believing this one will work, when it obviously doesn’t. We can’t keep hoping that reform and change can be made to work through a system that thinks everything is just fine. As Upton Sinclair said, ‘You can’t get a man to see something when his paycheck encourages him not to see.’

I really hesitated posting this. I know how radical this concept sounds. I’m sure there will be much ridicule, and minimizing, and snide comments on how and why it will never work, how, even if the idea were to catch fire, it would be coopted again in a few years by power-mad, and ruthless people.

Let me repeat the essence of my argument, which you may or may not agree with. The very legitimacy of this government is increasingly being questioned by people of good faith. The errosion of Constitutional freedoms, the decline of a free press, the increasing irresponsibility in fiscal matters of the country, the increasingly militant foreign policies in service of corporate and monied interests to the detriment of previous US policies of containment and consensus, the decline of public education.

We, as a nation, can call for substantive change while we can control the process to a certain extent—or we can argue about public funding of a corrupted system that has no intention of serving the American people and their needs, ever, and become the flotsam and jetsam floating on the seas of chance, suceptable to the forces of greed and ruthlessness: economic crises, wars over resources, class conflict, environmental catastrophe.

This government doesn’t work, and hasn’t worked for some time now. It’s time to reinvent one that will serve all the people in the 21st century.

Posted by: Tim Crow at July 28, 2006 4:03 PM
Comment #171469

TC…

OK…
That was quite a speech…
NOW…realistically, what do you think can be done today?

Posted by: Cliff at July 28, 2006 4:13 PM
Comment #171476

Cliff:

First of all, thank you for reading my post. I understand that some of my ideas are the Watchblog Right’s cross to bear.

I think I just did what I believe to be realistic today—broaching the subject. Planting the alternative seeds of thinking.

I am not adverse, in the short run, to any discussion of campaign finance reform, to any attempt to vote out incumbents via VOID to shake up the system, or any other method that would attempt to secure our right to vote.

But, these are stop-gap measures funneled through a system that isn’t just recalcitrant in reforming itself—it is diametrically opposed to it.

So, in answer to your question, the most responsible thing we can do to change this system for the better, is to have all elements of change on the table—including a new government.

I have just done what I could today. I raised the subject. And it is every bit a learning process for me as it is for everyone else.

The challeges this country faces are unprescedented. The government, because of corruption, guile and compromised principles, is not addressing them. Is reform really possible within the framework we are witnessing now?

Posted by: Tim Crow at July 28, 2006 4:40 PM
Comment #171477

D.A.N.

You wrote:

A tiny 1% of the U.S. population (the vastly wealthy) paid 83% ($2.0 billion) to federal political contributions.
How can the remaining 99% of Americans compete with that, when their total contributions are only 17% ($0.4 billion)?

Can you please provide a reference for this. If you are simply adding up the number of people who gave a political contribubiton and dividing by the total population, or even voting age population you are providing a highly skewed number.

As a long time PAC operative, I can tell you that among my clients, some of who have thousands of employees who contribute to their PAC that the average salary of those contributing to the PAC is just over $65,000.

Furthermore, federal law limits the amount and individual can contribute to federal candidates to $40,000 every two years and $61,400 to other PACs and the national parties every two years. No contribution to a candidate can exceed $4,200 for the primary and general election combined, no more than $5,000 per calendar year to a PAC, no more than $10,000 to the federal PAC of a state party and no more than $26,700 to a national party committee.

What you are advocating is understandable, but if we are going to debate the issue of money in politics, let us be clear what we are talking about.

Posted by: Matt Johnston at July 28, 2006 4:42 PM
Comment #171478

Tim Crow,
I could not have said it any better.

Posted by: d.a.n at July 28, 2006 4:42 PM
Comment #171479

Tim Crow,

While I admire you zeal for changing the system, I have to disagree with you premise. Is the American governmental system perfect? No, it is a human institution, designed and implemented by humans. No system is perfect, but here is the thing, over the long haul, it works and works well.

But like Cliff, I am more than willing to debate suggested changes, I just want to hear some alternatives. I think it patently unfair to use my post on campaign finance as a forum to advocate changes and then offer no concrete alternatives.

Posted by: Matt Johnston at July 28, 2006 4:46 PM
Comment #171484

Matt:

“No system is perfect, but here is the thing, over the long haul, it works and works well.”

We disagree.

“…I just want to hear some alternatives. I think it patently unfair to use my post on campaign finance as a forum to advocate changes and then offer no concrete alternatives.”

The elimination of the Electoral College, the elimination of the concept that corporations are persons with rights, rather than entities that are created by government to serve the needs of the nation at the behest of the people, the insistence in the transparency of government in all its phases, the examination of the concept that government is the enemy of the people, rather than their protector and their ally in creating a creative and healthy life for themselves and their children, the absolute transparency of the electoral process and everything that entails, including a possible consideration of the necessity for secret ballots, a complete and thorough overhaul of the military industrial complex and other corporate entities and the revolving door of elected officials into private lobbyist positions, thus undermining legitimate legislation and in fact, even writing legislation, the possibility of recalling elected officials during their terms for possible malfeasence and corruption, instead of putting up with them for four or six years without any recourse.

If you think my posts have shanghied your essay, then delete them.


Posted by: Tim Crow at July 28, 2006 5:16 PM
Comment #171485

“My early choice in life was either to be a piano player in a whorehouse, or a politician. And to tell the truth, there’s hardly any difference.”

Harry S. Truman

Posted by: JR at July 28, 2006 5:18 PM
Comment #171487
Matt Johnston wrote: Can you please provide a reference for this. If you are simply adding up the number of people who gave a political contribubiton and dividing by the total population, or even voting age population you are providing a highly skewed number.

Sure. Here ya go. Even less than 1% of population gave 83% of donations in 2002.

That’s because the poor get poorer while the rich get richer (i.e. median incomes have been falling for 6 consecutive years, and the gap between the wealthiest 1% of the U.S. population with 40% of all wealth has never been larger since the Great Depression of 1929).

That’s one report. There are several others (search on: 83 AND percent AND election).
There’s another report somewhere that states in the year 2000, 1% of the U.S. population contributed 83% of $2.4 billion (federal campaigns only).

So, let me ask you?

How can the remaining 99% of the U.S. population compete with that?

Those that abuse vast wealth and power can buy more television, radio, and print advertising.

That ain’t right !

Government ain’t supposed to be FOR SALE.

But, that’s exactly what we got.

Of course, there is one simple, no-brainer, common-sense solution right there under the very noses of those 99% of the U.S. population.

Simple as it is, it is equally elusive.

They have all been so brainwashed and distracted by the petty partisan warfare, they have forgotten what is important.

But, they will (some day) be motivated to understand, and seek education. Their teacher will be the pain and misery of their own negligence, and continually re-electing (empowering) those that abuse them.

Just stop re-electing irresponsible incumbents, like they were always supposed to do, money in elections wouldn’t make any difference.

Here’s another good article provided by Rene. Read it carefully.

Matt Johnston wrote: What you are advocating is understandable, but if we are going to debate the issue of money in politics, let us be clear what we are talking about.

Government shouldn’t be FOR SALE.
Was that clear enough?

Posted by: d.a.n at July 28, 2006 5:24 PM
Comment #171488

Here’s the article that Rene posted about brainwashing .

Posted by: d.a.n at July 28, 2006 5:26 PM
Comment #171489

d.a.n./Rene:

I’m guilty as charged.:-)

Posted by: Tim Crow at July 28, 2006 5:34 PM
Comment #171490

d.a.n.

The interesting thing that was not stated in the article was that people will not admit they are brainwashed and therefor the article must be about someone else…

Have you been brainwashed
d.a.n.?
Tim?
rene?
silima?
Jay?
Paul?
j2t2?
Ron?

Posted by: Cliff at July 28, 2006 5:38 PM
Comment #171493

Tim Crow, good points!

Matt Johnston wrote: I have to disagree with you premise. Is the American governmental system perfect? No, it is a human institution, designed and implemented by humans. No system is perfect, but here is the thing, over the long haul, it works and works well.

I love this excuse (i.e. nothing is perfect).
It’s always the last excuse when nothing else is working.
So, we are supposed to accept the corruption?

A number of years back, I used to work for a politician (whose name I will omit). I was there for only about 18 months. It was all I could take, and didn’t like the idea of working somewhere that made me feel dirty. Not all politicians are bad, but that profession, like some others (e.g. law, clergy, education, media, etc.) have a way of attracting parasites more so than others (e.g. fire-fighter, paramedic, doctor, construction worker, etc.).

I increasingly became embarrassed and ashamed.
I asked my wife to not tell my parents I worked for a politician, because they still thought I played piano at a whorehouse.

Just kidding. : )

But, seriously, can anyone name 10, 20, 50, or even 268 (half of the 535) in congress that are responsible? That:

  • do not vote irresponsibly for pork-barrel (while our troops risk life and limb, go without body armor, armor for vehicles, and adequate medical and health care) ?

  • do not vote themselves cu$hy perks and raises (e.g. such as the extravagant retirement plans, funded by tax-payers, that are not part of the same mismanaged Social Security and Medicare systems that tax-payers are relegated to) ?

  • do not ignore problems for fear of risking re-election or defying their big-money-donors ?

  • do not prevent newcomers from passing badly-needed, common-sense, no-brainer, responsible reforms ?

  • do not tempt, pressure, and threaten newcomers with the loss of party support if the newcomers don’t accept the status quo ?
  • do not pander ?

  • do not peddle influence and accept money from big-money-donors ?

  • do not fuel the petty partisan warfare that distracts the nation from our many pressing problems ?

  • do not spend a great deal of time and tax-payers’ money (via allowances) trolling for money for their campaign war-chests ?

  • do not abuse their allowances (provided by tax-payers) to retain their cu$hy, coveted seats of power ?

  • do not look the other way ?

  • genuinely embrace campaign finance reform, election reform, tax reform, or any reform that will create more transparent, accountable, and responsible government, even if it diminishes their opportunities for personal gain ?

  • are fiscally responsible ?

  • deserve to retain their cu$hy, coveted, and prized seats of power ?

Unfortunately, the system has become so perverted and dysfunctional, it corrupts almost all within it. And that will continue, until voters make it obvious to incumbent politicians that their careers will be short, indeed, if they succumb to the status quo, corruption, and greed !

Study:

  • the voting records of some politicians. Look at the pork-barrel they voted for while our troops risk life and limb.

  • the things they do and say.

  • their attendance records; many (such as Sen. John Conyers) don’t even bother to vote much of the time ;

  • their travel habits and expenses paid for by the tax-payers.

  • the use of their time, and how much of it is spent raising big-money for their campaign war-chests.

  • the way they vote themselves raises, special perk$, and cu$hy retirement plans while they totally mismanage and plunder Social Security ($12.8 trillion in the hole)and Medicare Systems.

Yes, study all those things, and maybe, just maybe, if your are hopelessly brainwashed, you may be surprised at what you find. And if you don’t, then you are not part of the solution.

Posted by: d.a.n at July 28, 2006 5:48 PM
Comment #171502

I agree with Rneinhold, that corporate money already has control of the elected that are suppose to represent the citizens and not the corporate officer. Take a look at the lobby scandal going on and you can see that money buy influence and power.

I do not check the box, and I do not like to see the government give anyone matching funds toward their election. Why not take the money and put it against the national debt, that is more of a problem then having someone running for money get some free funds. They don’t have to give it back.

But wait why not get several billion dollars that the oil company are making(news last night said exxon is making $87000 a day profit), and put it against the debt then they politicians can have their matching funds.

One last thing, even if you are a third party candiate you should get it like the big guys.

Posted by: KT at July 28, 2006 6:25 PM
Comment #171553

D.A.N. -

Your numbers are wrong because YOU DIDN’T READ the article you linked. Donations of less than $200 are not included in this figure. In fact, the article states that the total of polical donations for 2002 is not known at the time the article was written.

Posted by: Don at July 28, 2006 7:49 PM
Comment #171559

KT said -
“I agree with Rneinhold, that corporate money already has control of the elected that are suppose to represent the citizens and not the corporate officer.”

Check it out, Bush received only about 1% of his campaign money from PAC’s of which 80% were business interests. That adds up to .8% corporate money “controlling” him. About 72% of his campaign money came from individual donors. I could check other races if you have a preference. But nothing here suggests Bush is under the gun from corporations or “big oil”.

Posted by: Don at July 28, 2006 8:01 PM
Comment #171560

BTW the website for that info came from opensecrets.org. For some reason I can’t link it here.

Posted by: Don at July 28, 2006 8:03 PM
Comment #171629

Ron B…

Interesting idea…
Would you allow people to use their own money?

Posted by: Cliff at July 28, 2006 03:26 PM

I don’t see anything wrong with candidates using their own money. I’m running for our local school board and using my own money for the most part. I’m also following my own suggestions. Only I’m not excepting more than $50 per household.
Actually I think that candidates would watch their spending a little closer if they used their own money.


Posted by: Ron Brown at July 28, 2006 11:54 PM
Comment #171642

Here is a more detailed account of the study I linked:

Don’t Confuse Me With the Facts

Last week, I heard a very disquieting commentary on National Public Radio by Dr. Drew Westen of Emory University. Westen is a well respected psychologist, but he was commenting upon how our feelings can predict our political decision irrespective of the facts. Westen studies the way that psychology and politics intersect, and he says a familiar format in cable TV news works with the way our brains are wired. Let’s look at what Westen said last week on NPR’s All Things Considered:

“We’ve grown accustomed to hearing two versions of every story, one from the left and one from the right, as if the average of two distortions equals the truth. You’ve seen this on TV. The journalist provides the skeleton of the story; it’s then up to partisans to try to graft flesh onto one side or the other of its clanking bones.

“A few weeks ago, for example, I heard a news anchor begin a segment about missing explosives at the al Qaqaa munitions dump in Iraq. He described claims that weapons were missing and then handed it over to a Democrat and a Republican to dress the skeleton in red or blue. In fact, however, the munitions were missing, and the subject of the debate that followed, when they disappeared, was a question of fact, not interpretation, unless, of course, Democrats and Republicans live in different time zones.

“Unfortunately, this format—from the left, from the right—capitalizes on a design flaw in the human brain. We have a tendency to believe what we want to believe. We seek information and draw conclusions consistent with what we want to be true. I’ve been studying this kind of emotion-driven political thinking over the last several years, and the results are sobering. For example, during the disputed election of 2000, we could predict whether people would believe that manual or machine counts are more accurate just by knowing their feelings towards the two parties and the two candidates.

“When people draw conclusions about political events, they’re not just weighing the facts. Without knowing it, they’re also weighing what they would feel if they came to one conclusion or another, and they often come to the conclusion that would make them feel better, no matter what the facts are.

“An experiment completed right before the election shows just how powerful these emotional pulls can be. Here’s what we told the participants. A soldier at Abu Ghraib prison was charged with torturing prisoners. He wanted the right to subpoena senior administration officials. He claimed he’d been informed the administration had suspended the Geneva Conventions. We gave different people different amounts of evidence supporting his claims. For some, the evidence was minimal; for others, it was overwhelming.

“In fact, the evidence barely mattered. 84% of the time, we could predict whether people believed the evidence was sufficient to subpoena Donald Rumsfeld based on just three things: the extent to which they liked Republicans, the extent to which they liked the US military, and the extent to which they liked human rights groups like Amnesty International. Adding the evidence into the equation allowed us to increase the prediction from 84% to 85%.

“A readiness to believe what we want to believe makes it all the more important for journalists to distinguish what’s debatable from what’s not. The line between facts and interpretations isn’t always easy to draw, but presenting fact as opinion is not objective reporting. It isn’t objective to preface news that’s unflattering to one side or the other with phrases like ‘critics claim’ when it doesn’t take a critic to claim it. There’s nothing like a healthy debate, but there’s nothing as unhealthy as a debate about the undebatable.” (NPR Radio)

Let’s look at one sentence which is stunning. “Adding the evidence into the equation allowed us to increase the prediction from 84% to 85%.” In his study he sent to me, the actual number was on 84.5%. The old joke is, “Don’t confuse me with the facts. My mind is made up!” This study, and others he and his team have done over the years shows that it is no joke.

They did studies on Clinton and Lewinsky, on impeachment and on whether Clinton actually molested Kathleen Willey. What you felt about several emotional issues reliably predicted how you felt about the above topics.

But even when it was not an emotional issue as above, and one subject to facts and potentially rational thought, it made no difference. The subject of whether or not machine counts or hand counts was accurately split along party lines.

The clear implication of the study suggests that if Gore had won the state by some 500 votes, the opinions about which method of counting votes would have been reversed. The “facts” would be the same, of course, but the emotions surrounding the facts would have been opposite. We believe what we want to believe because to do otherwise would upset our world. The potential emotional stress of a contrary opinion is too much for us to deal with, so we go along with the (personally) least stressful emotional choice.

Posted by: Rene at July 29, 2006 1:03 AM
Comment #171646

d.a.n

Since this is supposed to be the conservative/Republican section of the blog, many here might be distressed by this:

Thanks for the link Rene.
It confirms what I suspected.
I used to be a Republican, but somehow go de-programmed.
So, that should give you all some hope.

: )
Posted by: d.a.n at July 28, 2006 03:34 PM

I’ve been a lifelong Democrat who has never voted for a republican. I am now also non-aligned, so the score (in this blog at least) is -1 to -1. I would call myself an independent, but that would imply that there are some good choices from both parties. Political orphan would be more a more accurate description of my situation.


Cliff:

d.a.n.

The interesting thing that was not stated in the article was that people will not admit they are brainwashed and therefor the article must be about someone else…

Have you been brainwashed
d.a.n.?
Tim?
rene?
silima?
Jay?
Paul?
j2t2?
Ron?
Posted by: Cliff at July 28, 2006 05:38 PM

Yes, I have indeed been brainwashed. We all have, but there is a fairly effective antidote. It’s called reason. Ernest Hemingway once said “we all need a crap detector”. Well, try to use basic logic, try to separate fact from opinion or myth and add a touch of common sense. Don’t get married to what you “know” and listen to your adversaries when they are presenting things they believe to be facts and examine their arguments for validity.
Now this might seem rather simple and not all that hard, but in fact, it is extremely hard to do. A truly honest approach to issues is liable to leave you friendless and excomunicated from your peer groups. In addition, the facts are not always clear and getting them right is trick as many experts, “experts” and “hired experts” will dazzle you with lies, damn lies and statistics. And as the article points out, you are not going to like some of the truths you find. When I was a little boy I read a quote by Socrates that puzzled me and thought rathe stupid for a guy that was famous for being smart. It made no sense to me, but for some reason it stayed with me for many years, until I finally figured it out. The quote was “Do not be angry with me, if I tell you the truth”. They made him drink hemlock.

Posted by: Rene at July 29, 2006 1:34 AM
Comment #171677

You are inferring that only private money should fund elections.. but right now Corporations own our election systems. THey own our govt. Democracy, and the concept of GOVT FOR THE PEOPLE BY THE PEOPLE has been destroyed.

The individual, ironically, does not have any power.

You have to be insanely wealthy, or have the notice of the Corporation in order to run a campaign. If you can’t get access to tv and media it doesn’t matter WHAT your message is.. you won’t win.

ANd even if you DO get your message out.. our elections are so rigged with electronic voting machines and disenfrachisement that the person that SHOULD win hasn’t a chance… because those in POWER control the outcome.

and abuse those out of power and make them look like they are insane and crazy and “sore losers”…

and the screwed up thing.. is that these “sore losers” accept that mantle and won’t stand up and fight back. They are the classic victim.

Just as an aside… review the following premises….

Premise Four: Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.

Premise Five: The property of those higher on the hierarchy is more valuable than the lives of those below. It is acceptable for those above to increase the amount of property they control—in everyday language, to make money—by destroying or taking the lives of those below. This is called production. If those below damage the property of those above, those above may kill or otherwise destroy the lives of those below. This is called justice.

Endgame.


Posted by: Caelidh at July 29, 2006 8:46 AM
Comment #171713
Don wrote: D.A.N. Your numbers are wrong because YOU DIDN’T READ the article you linked. Donations of less than $200 are not included in this figure. In fact, the article states that the total of political donations for 2002 is not known at the time the article was written. Posted by: Don at July 28, 2006 07:49 PM

No Don, you are wrong. You are the one that didn’t read or research far enough.
Donations under $200 are less than 17% of all donations (see below and the Center for Responsive Politics (www.cpr.org)).

Do you really think 99% of Americans contribute the most money ?

Research it, and you will see that contributions of under $200 do not amount to much in year 2000 (about 15% to 17%). 83% of the $2.4 billion (at the federal level only) came from less than 1% of the U.S. population (source: Center for Reponsive Politics).

But, Don, the larger issue is government that is FOR SALE.
The main issue is big money to influence politicians.
Are you trying to say that it is not a problem?
Are you trying to say the much smaller percentage of those with vast wealth and power do not abuse it to influence government?
If so, you are wrong, and the graph of small donations below demonstrates that.
Small donors are a tiny slice of the pie.

The wealthiest 1% of the U.S. population provide 83% of donations (at the federal level; 2.0 billion of $2.4 billion in year 2000 (source: www.crp.org)).

The only way the remaining 99% of the U.S. population can compete is to stop re-electing irresponsible, bought-and-paid-for, greedy, selfish incumbent politicians.

Rene wrote: d.a.n, Since this is supposed to be the conservative/Republican section of the blog, many here might be distressed by this:
d.a.n wrote: Thanks for the link Rene. It confirms what I suspected. I used to be a Republican, but somehow got de-programmed. So, that should give you all some hope.

Rene,
Hmmmmmmm. It should give them hope.
Like you wisely said:

We all have, but there is a fairly effective antidote. It’s called reason. Ernest Hemingway once said “we all need a crap detector”. Well, try to use basic logic, try to separate fact from opinion or myth and add a touch of common sense.

I understand the problem, having once been one of those that demonized the other party, and was all too fond of wallowing in the petty partisan warfare. You can see it here on this blog every day. Some just love to stir it up. They just love to demonize the other party. They love the petty partisan warfare. It is a great distraction. But it is the lazy way. Laziness is normal, but it is immoral to surrender to it completely. Once I finally (after decades) rejected the petty partisan warfare, it was like a load of bricks lifted from my shoulders. No longer was it necessary to twist and spin the facts to demonize the other party, and try to find ways, no matter how flimsy, to rationalize the unacceptable deeds of my party. I’m no longer Republicans because parties are not the solution, because all parties simply consist of too many irresponsible incumbent politicians, that fuel the partisan warfare. That is how they trick voters, by making them think it is the other party that is evil. But, is is the goal of irresponsible incumbents in all parties to create a detractor; a circular pattern of thought and behavior to divide the voters, to distract them from more substantive issues being neglected (such as petty partisan warfare, racism, discrimination, pitting Americans and illegal aliens against each other, etc.), to seduce voters into the petty partisan bickering, and prevent the voters from ever realizing that they are being manipulated. It is very powerful. I too was once seduced into that circular pattern of petty partisan warfare. No more. Parties are not the problem. The cheaters in all parties are half the problem, and the other half of the problem is the larger population of voters that do not realize or believe they are being manipulated. So, education is the first step. Progress is slow ( two steps forward, and 1.999 steps backward), but voters will learn it some day … probably the hard way … pain and misery is a good teacher, even if the lesson has to be re-learned many times before it finally sinks in.

Posted by: d.a.n at July 29, 2006 11:13 AM
Comment #171716

NOTE: The tens of millions mentioned above (donated to political parties annually by small individual contributers), is a very tiny percent (a few percent) of the $2.4 billion donated in year 2000.

Posted by: d.a.n at July 29, 2006 11:17 AM
Comment #171878

I like all those goofy tests they have all over the internet which may or may not help you discover things like what your occupation would be in medieval England, whether you would survive a night of the living dead type attack, personality tests, aptitude tests, etc. Here is an interesting one which determines your political views based on moral values. These type of tests vary in their scientific validity from fairly scientific, to worthless, but they do make you think…sometimes.

http://www.moral-politics.com/xpolitics.aspx?menu=Home&action=Help&choice=Overview

Posted by: Rene at July 29, 2006 8:13 PM
Comment #171897

The machinery of government is still strong and working well.

The operators of the machinery of government are doing a very poor job.

If we gave merit raises to congressmen, they would soon be in the poverty catagory.

Posted by: tomh at July 29, 2006 9:01 PM
Comment #171903

Rene,
Interesting test.
Here’s my score.
Here’s another interesting test.

Posted by: d.a.n at July 29, 2006 9:34 PM
Post a comment