Washington for Sale
Over six billion dollars poured into the coffers of candidates for federal office in 2012, $2.3 billion of it going to the campaigns of Barak Obama and Mitt Romney. The rest of the donated largess went to candidates for the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Three out of every four Americans believe there is too much money in politics; most deplore huge, unfettered donations and the fact that corporations, unions, and other entities can make extremely large contributions without openly disclosing where the money comes from. And yet public disapproval has remained unfocused and too passive to convince enough politicians that they should support campaign finance reform.
The effects of big money in politics are various and pernicious:
(1) Representatives and senators routinely profess that donated money has no impact on their legislative decision-making. But it would be the height of naivete to swallow all such protestations, to believe that only a smattering of elected federal officials are immune from the power of money.
(2) Eighty percent of contributions to congressional campaigns comes from one percent of the population. The value of the individual voter’s choice is commensurately diminished.
(3) The pool of potential candidates for high office is limited to those who either on their own have access to large amounts of money or are willing to engage in non-stop solicitation of donations. The country loses the services of many highly qualified men and women because they are turned off by the pressing need to raise money.
(4) Many in Congress complain about the heavy demands that fund-raising places on them. There is no doubt that the time committed to fund-raising would be much better used in doing the work of the people, in focusing on the challenges to the nation.
A number of non-profit organizations are endeavoring to bring about campaign finance reform. Only one of these is avowedly bipartisan, Americans for Campaign Reform (www.acrreform.org) which was born and nurtured in New Hampshire. ACR believes that voluntary public funding represents the best means to ensure political accountability and encourage civic participation in our elections.
Reflecting its bipartisan status, ACR’s chairmen are former US senators Bill Bradley (D), Bob Kerrey (D), Alan Simpson (R), and, until his death in January of this year, New Hampshire’s Warren Rudman. Before he passed away, Senator Rudman, often and eloquently wrote and spoke publicly deploring big money’s negative impact on the American political system and urging reforms.
The lack of a strong push from the White House renders efforts for reform all the more difficult of success. Unfortunately, President Obama, who in the past had advocated campaign finance reform, is no longer doing so.
The road ahead for bringing sanity to the American way of electing its highest officials will be long and arduous. But because massive amounts of money in the electoral process are removing the substance and soul of our democracy, efforts for reform are well worth pursuing. Congress will not enact campaign finance reforms in the absence of public pressure to do so. Therefore, those who believe in the vital need for reform should express that to elected officials in Washington.
Former state representative
American Ambassador, Ret.