During the past year or so there has been much debate about reforming the way political campaigns are paid for. Most have centered around limiting the role of soft money but all have fallen short. The best that so far has been accomplished is the agreement to post all contributions to political parties, rather than the candidates, on the interenet. Nice idea but we already have reporting requirements and one can see how interested the public is in these reports.
An idea which was proposed back in 1992 by then candidate Ross Perot, and one which I fully support, was called "Can't Vote, Can't Contribute". Simply put, on the federal level of elections, you may not contribute to either a candidate or a party if you cannot legally vote for that person or party. In other words, why should a person in California be able to contribute to the election of someone in Pennsylvania. They have no interest whatsoever in what happens in another state. This would prevent out of state contributions to candidates and would force them to gather monies from their own constituents.
Another added bonus to this idea would be the total ban on contributions by non-persons. Huh? Non-person meaning an entity such as a business, PAC (Political Action Committee) or lobbying group. After all, when was the last time you heard of a business running for office? Since the foregoing groups cannot vote for anyone, they should not be able to contribute to the campaign of a particular individual or a party. While the entity may have a vested interest in who is elected, it is the people of that group who actually cast the votes. If that entity wants a certain person elected then they can spend their money informing their group about the issues.
This whole situation arose when the Supreme Court ruled in Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 (1976) that political contributions are a form of free speech. However, the one key point which the Supreme Court failed to take into consideration was what I have stated previously. Namely, entities don't vote, people do. Certainly a person should be able to contribute to any person or party they wish, within limits, but not if they do not have an interest in that particular race.
However, as can be seen in todays political world, those with the money get the votes. One can look at any federal race to see the influence that business and lobbying groups have over candidates. The recent discussions over tobacco regulation is a prime example (I do not support this initiative in case you are wondering). The tobacco industry has given millions to various Senators and Congressmen over the years, mainly to incumbents. In return they have been somewhat exempted from the usual regulations that other industries have been subjected to. In fact, I would wager that if you took a look at how a Senator voted you would find a direct correlation to how much money they received from the tobacco industry.
Here's another example. There was a big debate during the 1992 presidential campaign over NAFTA (North American Free Trade Act). This agreement between the U.S., Mexico and Canada was supposed to allow for a more free flow of goods and services between the three countries by reduing the regulations that then existed. However, during the debate in Congress over the pros and cons of this agreement, the sugar industry waged a fierce lobbying effort on the Hill. Why? Because a part of NAFTA would have allowed cheaper sugar from Mexico to come into this country thus depressing prices and making it harder for the giants of the industry to keep the high profit margins they now have. Didn't know why you pay so much for sugar, did ya? Didn't know that the sugar industry, as well as the peanut industry, is subsidized by your tax dollars, did ya?
These are just a few examples of why campaign finance reform will never happen. As long as the majority of individuals are incumbents (having served longer than six years) the rules will not be changed. Elected officials have it too good to be stupid enough to change the system. Think about it, if you were given free vacations every year you wouldn't change the rules, now would you? No, the only way for true campaign finance reform to take place is for every person who would not normally vote in an election, to vote against the incumbent. There are more people who don't vote in an election than who do. But convincing someone who is apathetic or cynical about the election process to vote is an uphill battle. Too many people today just don't care. They continually hear stories of corruption of elected officials and have basically given up believing that their vote counts. Not voting is the worst thing to do.
To have substantial campaign finance reform it must be made clear that a continuation of the current way is not acceptable and the only way to show that is to get rid of the incumbents. So get out and vote the next time there's an election in your area. Cast your vote against the incumbent. Once incumbents start being defeated the others will realize that their time is limited. Then, and only then, will you see meaingful reform. Until then it will be same 'ol, same 'ol.