Monday, September 21, 2009

Campaign Reform is needed and is simple to achieve

Last November Americans saw an incredible amount of money spent on the Presidential campaigns. While nearly two dozen people ran in primaries for their political party nomination we will concentrate on the money spent on the 6 parties. I know many of us only believe that we have two political parties – Democrats and Republicans – because of the publicity and money they garner. The President of the United States gets a salary of $400K with other money for expenses, travel, and entertainment so why then is it necessary to raise multi-million dollars to run for the office?

The Democrat Party nominee Barak Obama rose $745M and spent $730M on their way to a victorious bid for president (http://www.opensecrets.org/pres08/). Others in the race combined didn't even come close. Republican Party nominee Sen. McCain rose $368M and spent $333M; Independent Party nominee Ralph Nader rose $4M and spent $4M; Libertarian Party nominee Bob Barr rose $1M and spent $1M; Constitution Party nominee Chuck Baldwin rose $258K and spent $208K; and Green Party nominee Cynthia McKinney rose $199K and spent $145K (http://www.opensecrets.org/pres08/). The insane amount of money spent in 2008 is alarming. People wonder why their elected officials appear to be out of touch.

Campaign fund raising is big business. During the 2004 presidential campaigns groups like Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and MoveOn.org received heavy criticism for the spending of tens of millions of dollars for advertisement. Last Friday a three-judge panel "struck down regulations intended to blunt the power of such organizations" to influence the message (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/09/18/AR2009091801698.html?hpid=moreheadlines). The ruling is drawing speculation that it will assist conservative groups in 2010 and 2012 since Obama has the ability to raise hundreds of millions of dollars. "The First Amendment, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, protects the right of individual citizens to spend unlimited amounts to express their views about policy issues and candidates for public office," the court ruling said (http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gZYiCc0jFm1sB0To44JC9e4pAfqwD9APT0780).

As I said campaign financing has become big business. Due to the amount of time allocated to the primary and general election seasons, the opportunity for "soft money" funds to be used for attack ads is explosive. Although the "hard money" to nonprofit groups that plan to use their money rose to support or oppose a federal candidate is capped at $5000 annually for individuals. Richard Hasen, a professor at Loyola Law School that specializes in election law, stated the three-judge panel ruling is "going to make it easier for people – all I would say eventually corporations and unions – to give money to political committees to spend on elections." That being said it is time for reform of the way American's elect their political office.

The change is the format. To start political parties will need to establish themselves with both state and federal election offices. Fund raising will not be limited but the spending of the money will be drastically changed. The spending of campaign funds will be restricted to travel, food, lodging, staff, and general business expenses. The primary season divided the time of the duties of those running thus shirking their elected responsibilities. To mitigate the loss of representation brought about by the rigors of campaigning the primary season will be limited to 45 days. The limitation will be at all levels of government. After the primary season is complete there will be a 15 day cooling off period before the general election.

The general election process will last 45 days as well. During the 45 days 5 debates will take place with all registered political party candidates. The final debate will be schedule a week prior to Election Day. No fund raising events will be allowed during the primary or the general election seasons. Any fundraising will need to be down outside the election seasons. Although the reform idea may not curb the excessive fundraising events it will allow for all register parties to have an equal voice. The reform will also establish a national ballot that will ensure all registered candidates are on the ballot in every state and do away with the need for each candidate to file in each state where the rules are not uniform. The tough part of this reform will be to get Republicans and Democrats to agree as it will pose a threat to their oligarchy of the political system.