by Thomas Keister
While it has been fairly easy to criticize the amount of change going down in President Obama's first 100 days, or whether or not one can, in fact, believe in it, another vital problem was actually being addressed. Yes, in the new advent of witless talking point manuevers by the right-wing, a Republican and a Democrat are working together on an idea that would serve not only to clean up a significant part of the political process, but do it in a way that won't cost the taxpayers the third arm they are desperately trying to grow.
Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) are introducing the Fair Elections Now Act, and Democratic Caucus chair John Larson (CT) and Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) have also been mentioned as backing the measure on the House side.
Yeah, sounds all well and good, but what is the Fair Elections Now Act supposed to do, in regards to cleaning up the system, that we haven't heard before? After eight years of make-it-up-as-you-go-along, what can be brought to the table, short of a war crimes indictment for former President Bush, that the American public will even be interested in?
The Act, which is modeled in part after the systems in place in a handful of states, would eliminate the link between candidates and lobbyists and other dubious groups by requiring Congressional candidates to qualify for additional campaign funding by actually gaining support from local constituents, rather than hitting the $1,000 per plate circuit. Senate candidates would have to raise a specific number of contributions based on the number of congressional district in their state. Once qualified, candidates would be able to continue raising donations of $100 or less, which would be matched with public money, to a cap.
Not only would this system replace much of an incumbent or candidate's time spent on fundraising, which all too often replaces the duties of being an elected official or one who aspires to public office by making them dance like a monkey with a little tin cup instead of building informed positions from which sensible policy is crafted, but it would also serve to level the playing field for grassroots or independent candidates.
A bill that would not onlu sanitize the political process, but encourage participation and increase accountability? At the cost of bottomless political war chests? I'll be amazed it survives the House or the Senate, even with the big name backing. For the billions that have funneled into campaigns over the past two or three decades, candidates may find it hard to grab the handle and cut off the flow. According to Nick Nyhart and David Donnelly's article Fair Elections Now! in the April 13 issue of The Nation, House freshmen have been given word from their party's campaign bosses to have a million dollars in the bank. By the end of their first year. That's $20,000 a week, every week. What happens if a congressman doesn't raise the dough? Sounds suspiciously like loansharking to me. I'm just saying...
The fairly obvious question Nyhart and Donnelly's article asked was how politicians can get much work done when they are trying to keep their war chests above water. The fairly obvious answer given the state of things is not nearly enough, at least until it's time to vote in another pay raise. If there is going to be any kind of change worth believing in, let it start with this, because thus far I haven't seen much in the way of anything.
by Thomas Keister