Let’s Talk About Campaign Finance

As I believe most of us are aware, we are in a period of what could politely be considered economic turmoil. Despite assurances from those in power that things are looking up and getting better, many people in the United States are in a very bad place right now. They are losing their homes. They are starving. They are not able to access government services. Things are not pretty over here on Main Street, despite the confidence on Wall Street. And here we are, rolling into another election cycle where the economy is most assuredly going to play a role.

Something else is going to play a role, too. Money. Lots and lots of money. More money than I can even begin to imagine. The Supreme Court tells corporations they can spend as much as they want on political campaigns, powerful and wealthy donors, as well as politicians, are getting ready to bankroll advertising blitzes, and the political parties in this country are hollering for donations. Campaign war chests are filling up and it’s never enough. Politicians are already jockeying for funding dollars in traditionally high value states like California.

In 2008, Barack Obama spent $740.6 million on his campaign. Incidentally, he declined public financing. That’s a lot of money. It’s not enough to balance the budget, but it is still a lot of money. I can certainly think of a lot of things one could do with that money, as could you. But don’t blame Obama; he was just trying to keep pace with a field where a lot of candidates were spending a lot of money. Keeping up with the Joneses reaches a whole new level in Presidential elections, let me tell you. Spending becomes critical if you want a fighting chance in the election.

I suspect I am not the only person in the United States who looks at the amount of money spent on political campaigns, hell, the amount raised at a single campaign event, and feels a note of bitterness. I am not the only person in this country who is in debt, who is behind on estimated tax payments, who is struggling to make ends meet, and I’m reading about $500/head campaign dinners where wealthy and powerful people buy access to political figures with funds I can’t have and could never hope to match. I see figures from single events that would feed multiple families for a year, that exceed the annual income of many people in the United States, and it makes me feel rather nauseous.

Politics has always been a power game, which means a money game, but it seems to be exacerbating now, right along with the massive gap between rich and poor. All we do is vote, in elections bought and paid for with money earned on the sweat of our backs, and our suffering. We hope our votes actually get counted, we hope other people like us vote, we hope our votes aren’t twisted and distorted, we hope our districts aren’t so gerrymandered that the decision is made before the polls are even open. We hope that other voters did their research and critical thinking when they tried to decide which candidates to support. Because the alternative would be that none of this matters, and we should just stay home and let people decide the outcomes of elections in corporate boardrooms.

Which is, effectively, where the outcomes of elections are decided now, because of the twisted nature of campaign finance in this country. I suspect I’m also not the only person in the United States who wants to see radical campaign finance reform. I want to see politicians relying solely on public funding, with matching funds for all campaigns, and a cap on total public funding, yes, even for important elections like the Presidency. Because buying an election is not the same thing as winning an election, and it harms the majority of the people in this country, because the majority of the people in this country are at an economic and social disadvantage. This is not a democracy.

Clean elections, excluding all sources of private support, are the only chance to level the playing field. Not just in the sense that it might give citizens a fighting chance at evaluating candidates on their own and making their own decisions about elections. But in the sense that they would create more room for politicians who don’t stand a chance currently, for people who don’t have the economic clout and the ability to muster campaign financing to compete. For people who might actually make a change in this country. For the people this country is supposedly all about, the radicals, the reformers, those interested in equality and fairness for all, not just the maintenance of wealth and power for some.

Which is, of course, precisely why all attempts to transition to solely public funding are doomed to failure. Even politicians who claim to have an interest in campaign finance reform benefit from the current system. They certainly have no reason to want to increase their electoral competition, and have an active incentive to keep it down, because they must always look to the next election. Public funding would make it harder to maintain the status quo by providing voters with access to actual alternatives. And, of course, this is not something that the rulemakers, the peopel in power, want to happen.

So instead, we’re going to watch political campaigns expend obscene amounts of money while our people are dying, and we will traipse to the polls on election day, or mail our ballots in, and wonder what the fucking point is.