US Needs Amendment to Cap Campaign Cash

Monday, 29 Aug 2011 04:37 PM

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Money has taken over our political system in a way that is simply horrifying. Special-interest groups — in particular corporations, unions, Wall Streeters, and bankers — dominate our politics.

They have devastated this country economically, yet they have gotten away with it because they choose and finance our candidates for low and high public office. We complain but do nothing about this situation and feel helpless.

But we are not helpless. Because of our numbers, we have in our power the ability to amend the Constitution of the United States to vastly limit the power of money to manipulate and control the electoral process. Let’s do it.

Those in our society who unfairly use the power of money to oppress us do not have to prevail. They are vastly outnumbered by the backbone of our nation, the middle class, and by others who are similarly outraged by the power of money to oppress us.

Whenever commentators talk about a possible political candidate running for high office, particularly for president, their first observation will be, does he/she have the capacity to raise the money needed to fund the campaign?

President Obama, seen as a reformer to his supporters, surprised many when he announced he would be raising a billion dollars for his 2012 re-election campaign. He expects the Republicans will be raising at least that much and probably more.

The U.S. Supreme Court in a host of decisions has made clear that it interprets the Constitution as allowing the broadest freedom in spending money on a campaign for public office.

The case which set the tone for the cases to follow was Valeo v. Buckley in 1976. It established that candidates for public office who agreed not to take public funding could spend as much of their own money as they wanted to on their own campaigns — federal, state, and local.

The most recent of the U.S. Supreme Court decisions on this issue, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in 2010, went further and stated that the government may not ban political spending by corporations in candidate elections.

Rules are imposed by the Federal Campaign Finance Board on federal campaigns. Localities like New York City have their own monitoring agencies. Candidates are required to make a host of public filings on amounts collected, monies spent, and provide the names of contributors to the different campaigns, both those administered by the candidates directly and those administered independently of the candidates but supporting candidates or public issues.

The rules are many and campaigns employ lawyers and accountants to follow them. Many candidates fail to file all the information required or to observe all the regulations and are subject to major fines.

The greatest expenditure for most campaigns is the cost of television and radio commercials, the former far outweighing any other media.

The television licenses provided by the government could require as they do in some other countries that the station provide the candidates with free time and remove that enormous financial burden from the campaign. Regrettably, that has not happened in our country.

The television industry is far too powerful to permit such free access. The television industry is one of the special interests dominating the Congress.

This past weekend there was a front-page article in The New York Times addressing the issue of campaign finance. The Times and other newspapers and opinion makers have addressed that issue in the past, but apparently for the most part, those articles and the inherent warnings have fallen on deaf ears. Neither the Congress nor the public has responded with action.

The Times of August 28 reported on an independent committee raising money for Republican Gov. Romney’s campaign for president.

The reporter, Nicholas Confessore, wrote: “Mr. Romney’s appearance underscored the increasingly blurry line between presidential candidates and the so-called Super PACs that have proliferated since a 2010 Supreme Court ruling allowed independent groups to raise unlimited amounts to promote candidates.”

The article went on: “Increasingly, the new Super PACs are taking on tasks that in previous years were handled by — and paid for by — the candidates themselves. But instead of using money raised in the $2,500 increments that federal law imposes on candidates, the Super PACs can accept donations of unlimited amounts. (The groups must disclose their donors, though some Super PACs, including Priorities USA and the Karl Rove-founded American Crossroads, have affiliated nonprofit arms that do not have to disclose donors.)”

What is so absurd is that there is a remedy: a constitutional amendment.

Yes, it is difficult to pass a constitutional amendment and rightfully so. The Constitution shouldn’t be easily amended. But this situation is so awful, I have no doubt that Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and others would flock to the cause.

As was just illustrated in India, around the world many times through violence and non-violence, through an act of pacifism by one person and his willingness to engage in a hunger strike, the people in all their majesty win.

Why don’t the good government groups in our country convene a meeting to discuss how best to proceed with a constitutional amendment limiting the amounts of money that can be raised from any one individual, corporation, or union and spent in any election for public office by candidates and their supporters?

We currently have no greater need than that of protecting our democratic system of government.



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