Thursday, February 28, 2008

Who REALLY Influences Our Elected Representatives

WARNING: This may be a bit cynical.

For the past while, I've thought quite a bit about how to lessen the influence of lobbyists on our elected officials. After some reasoning, I thought that the best way to get rid of lobbyist influence is to not allow them to give money to elected officials. That would mean that only individuals could give money to campaigns; not companies, not lobbyists, not PACs, no one else. After all, if candidates had to appeal directly to the people for their financing, their first loyalty would be to the people. Turns out, I'm a little naive.

Although it would be wrong of me to say that whoever has the most money, has the most influence, it would also be wrong to discount the role of money in politics. A well funded campaign can and many times is the difference between victory and defeat. So where does the money come from? I used to think it was from either voters (individual contributers) or from businesses/organizations (lobbyists, PACs, unions, etc.). Well there's a third major contributor that nobody talks about: the party. That's right, turning to the party can get you quite a bit of funding for a campaign.

The next question is how do you get the money? You do things the contributers like. If the voters like your policies/positions, you can get individual contributions. If businesses/organizations like your policies/positions you get money from lobbyists, PACs, etc. If your political party likes your policies/positions, you can get money from the party.

So now we come to the line in the sand. Are you getting financial support because people/organizations/the party support your view or because you support their views. In other words, did you get a contribution because of how you voted on a particular issue or did you vote on the issue so that you could get a contribution? How can I, as a voter, distinguish between the two? How do I know which candidate will turn on their ideals for corporate backing or for the backing of the party?

Now did you notice how the people (individual contributors) kind of got lost? It's difficult to raise money from individuals. It takes a lot of time and effort. Companies and the party can just write out huge checks and you're doing well.

So what's the solution? I don't know if this would actually work, but here's an idea:

1) Only allow individuals to give money to a campaign. This excludes the party, any business, organization, lobbyist, and PAC. If you need money for a campaign, then you have to go out and get it.

2) Do not allow individuals, organizations, businesses, PACs, etc. to run any advertising that supports, attacks, or even mentions a candidate. The Republican Party can run ads on how the party brings us security and prosperity, for example, but they can't say "vote for Bob". A PAC can run an ad about an issue but cannot support, attack, or even mention a candidate or elected official.

3) Have the FCC require an equal amount of free advertising time to each candidate in an election that polls at 5% or higher (a candidate should have at least SOME credibility).

These ideas may or may not work and I have no doubt that if a candidate sets out to be corrupt, they'll figure out a way to do it. However, let's not make it easy.

Let's make politics about ideas and not about money. Wouldn't that be nice?