Dash For Cash

No one really likes what has happened to politics.  Those of us who are in one form or another read history books about the founding fathers and often expel rueful sighs as we daydream about how much better it must have been then.  Better in the time before television and radio spots, communication directors, and staged and stacked “townhalls”.

We yearn for the good old days when debates were actually debates, and a politicians ability to govern wasn’t measured by how he used his penis.  In short, we yearn for the days before money became such a big deal.

Both Vice President Gore in his book Assault on Reason and Senator Barrack Obama in Audacity of Hope in their own way decry the influence that money has had on the modern political sphere.

With Al Gore, the focal point centers around television and the effect “one way” media has had on our nation’s discourse.  The lack of interractivity, he argues, has resulted in a public that is largely disengaged from the political process and is highly susceptible to carefully choreographed messaging.

Further, he would argue, because of the price and cost of television at virtually all levels, from production to airing, this one way medium is only available to a small portion of the populace, the rich and powerful.

Meanwhile, Barack bemoaned his first foray into major fundraising, discussing how embarrassed and shamed he felt begging others for money.  Still, after that hump was overcome (indeed, as I learned in a conversation with my friend Tracey from Iraqslogger and Bellaonline notoriety, personal fundraising is a necessity, and privately rich candidates are often at a disadvantage if they choose to fund their own way as they deprive themselves of the opportunity of getting in touch with the constituents), Obama still held his own reservation, that specifically with the role lobbyists play in politics.

To be fair he does make a distinction.  Not all lobbyists are necessarily bad, and in fact there are some lobbyists that do good works, for instance those that lobby on behalf of teachers or working Americans.  I, for one, have never held much antipathy for the AARP whose only bias seems to be for old people, and old people are good because, among other things, their procreation allowed the rest of us to come into existence.  So I’ll not direct my ire towards them as a way of saying thanks.

On the other hand, as Obama’s argument goes, one of the major problems with lobbyists is that they essentially get to “buy” candidates when they contribute to campaigns.  In a world where you are running for reelection the moment you get sworn into office, it can be hard to turn this money down.  At some point, he finally explains, you start to wonder when all of this is going to change you, to turn you from the ideals that led you to seek office in the first place.

The fact is, when further employment relies so heavily on the amount of funds you can stash into your warchest, that’s a whole lot of influence a whole lot of people can hang over your heads.

As though to prove this, coming on the heels of news that one of Hillary Clinton’s largest fundraisers is in fact a fugitive being sought by California authorities, a poll was released explaining that a vast majority of Americans don’t approve of candidates accepting money from lobbyists.

Together, the two stories begin to paint a picture that perhaps it is money, any money in general, in our politics that is acting as a poison on our system.  Indeed, with television time being one of the most valuable resources in the political market, vast sums of money are required to first produce television spots and then to air them in prime markets.

And then you have your “unaffiliated” groups, your soft money, your 527’s that get in there and without the mandatory, “Hi, I’m so and so and I approve this message” are able to get in there and really muck things up.  Obviously a great example of this is the disingenuous “Swift Boat Veterans For Truth” group which raked Kerry across the coals for months before the mainstream media finally undertook an effort to debunk them.  Unfortunately, by then, the damage was already done.

So what is a struggling democracy comprised of a well informed citizenry to do?  To be perfectly honest, I have no idea.  McCain/Feingold sought to restrict some of the soft money and the ability for 527’s to participate in the process, and while that measure did pass, it left wide gaping loopholes, as well as an argument about possibly infringing upon free speech in its wake.

Another often discussed solution is to remove all private money from campaigns completely.  Gone, done, zero, all campaigns are now to be financed by the government from here on in.  But this too comes with some pretty serious challenges.

The biggest becomes, whom do you allow to receive funding for running a campaign?  On one hand, you would be hard pressed to deny anyone who meets the basic constitutional requirements to run for president funding on the mere grounds of discrimination.  On the other hand, though, we could easily go broke in one election cycle if we let everyone who wanted to run have their own government funded warchest.

Besides, it really isn’t a good idea to let everyone run, as those who know about Mr. Sharkey might attest.

Jonathon “The Impaler” Sharkey is mounting his second (I think) presidential bid.  A plank in his platform involves, among other things, impaling both terrorists and criminals.  Right, this is not the kind of guy that you really want your tax dollars going to so he could attempt an ill conceived run on the White House (Note: Sharkey’s changed up a little bit since I last looked in on him.  He’s actually got some good ideas, which is frightening, and as I read through his site, I was even more put off by the idea that I would actually… kinda… rather have him in charge then our current president).

On the other side of the theological spectrum, we have the Archangel Michael, running as a Republican.


So this is the danger you fall into when you have a fully government funded political system.  You just have some severe whackos that are going to be siphoning off revenue.  Not the best of ideas.

In order to have government funded campaigns you would have to figure out how to narrow the field down to realistic candidates but you would have to do so without unfairly discriminating against anyone; a problem admittedly above my depths.

As I get ready to put this article to bed, a thought popped in my mind, how about just doing the whole thing American Idol style?  And then I remembered how close Sanjaya came, and thought better of it.

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