Conservatives, are you angry that one big factor in whether President Barack Obama is re-elected has nothing to do with his policy positions or leadership skills? That this factor, instead, is whether he can raise $1 billion (with a “b”) to conduct his campaign? Are you frustrated that in 2008 he broke the record with $745 million?
Yes, Republicans, do you resent the fact that, when a Washington governor negotiates contracts with state-worker unions, she or he could be sitting across the table from some of the largest campaign contributors, and that there’s no one representing you and other taxpayers at that table?
Liberals, are you irate that the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous Citizens United ruling has given Wall Street, Big Oil, Big Pharma, and all the other Bigs virtually unlimited power to divert large campaign contributions to clandestine groups where full disclosure is delayed or circumvented?
Yes, Democrats, are you fuming that the middle-class and low-income Americans whom you profess to represent are overpowered by wealthy contributors to political campaigns?
Well, step right up — conservatives and liberals — have I got a great deal for you! The good news is that Americans of both political parties can reset our political system to what the Founding Fathers envisioned. The bad news is, this overdue reform likely will never happen because the biggest beneficiaries of the dysfunctional status quo — our elected officials — aren’t too interested in reform. (Actually, I think all of them, deep down inside, know that change is needed. But we can’t expect pirates to close their treasure chests, can we?)
As you’ve probably guessed, the great deal I’ve got for you is getting the money out of political campaigns. Whoa! Wait! Come back! I know I just lost half the readers who think such a socialistic suggestion makes me a bleeding-heart Marxist anchor-baby colonialist from Kenya who hates America and hopes the terrorists win. But before you file sedition charges, do me two favors.
Big bucks, big victories
First, consider these statistics from the Americans for Campaign Reform (http://acrreform.org):
In 2008, incumbent candidates in the U.S. House of Representatives averaged $1.4 million in campaign fundraising. That’s quadruple the average of their opponents. And 94 percent of those incumbents won.
Senate incumbents raised an average $8.7 million, almost six times the average of their challengers. That year, Senate incumbents won 86 percent of their races.
If you think those big bucks and big victories are unrelated, you’re living in a dream world. What might explain this lofty success rate of incumbents? Certainly not the Congressional pirates’ public approval rating, which is bumping along near single digits in some polls. I suspect it’s the access to those treasure chests.
Consider also these numbers from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law:
A study of 42 state legislatures or assemblies over 26 years (1980-2006), shows an incumbency re-election rate of about 95 percent. Those legislators “have enormous power,” distributing huge amounts of tax dollars, and “the solutions to this problem cannot be decoupled from the question of money in politics,” Brennan concludes.
Many of you, I know, oppose campaign finance reform. Fine, but at least consider Brennan’s proposal to “keep state elections democratic, vibrant and competitive” by adopting “lower contributions and public (campaign) financing at the same time.” Still too radical, you say? Well, sail on, status quo!
Here’s the second favor: If conservatives still think I’m crazy to advocate campaigns without contributions, go back and read the first two paragraphs of this column. My suspicion is that many people who oppose campaign finance reform are also screaming to replace incumbents. Yeah, throw all the bums out! Hey, serving in elected office ain’t rocket science. Get ordinary folks in there to clean house.
Well, good luck on all of that. You’ll never change the pirates until you close the treasure chests.