Mt. Vernon Register-News

June 8, 2010

Rippy: Clean elections questions and answers

MT. VERNON — I have been constructively asked by a few readers if I can shorten my columns. It is hard for me to do because there is so much I find in my research that I think folks should know. Sometimes I wonder if I was just in a small group of folks that was ignorant and naïve about our government. I know for a fact that I personally fall in to that category because I was so involved in my job while working. Just remember that we are only ignorant and naïve until we learn. Now “stupid” is different — “stupid” is forever. I am going to try, unless something really exciting shows up, to take some of the current objections to clean/public financed elections and debunk the myths concerning those objections.

One myth is: This will give the government control over political speech. Fair Elections funding is entirely voluntary. It is available to any citizen who can show significant public support. Candidates who choose to participate must agree to take no donation larger than $100. Candidates running publicly funded campaigns can be anywhere on the political spectrum.

 Another myth is: Fair Elections are a waste of taxpayers’ money! If our only concern was money, we could really save taxpayers a lot of money by allowing the special interests who pay for a candidate’s campaign to also pay for our Senator’s salary, and for his or her staff’s salary, for their offices, transportation, living expenses in D.C., etc. These interests would be more than happy to pay and for all the same reasons they are willing to pay for our Senator’s re-election campaign.  They are giving a little to get a lot.  They calculate that if they can spend some money now to keep your Senator in office, they will reap much larger rewards in the future by being able to influence decisions made by Congress.

In the end, we, the citizens, end up paying much more that we would if we recognized that paying for election campaigns, like paying congressional salaries, is one of the costs of being a self-governing people.

Another myth: This is nothing more than welfare or handouts or “Food Stamps” for politicians. According to this argument, politicians should just get out there and earn their money.  But, what do politicians have to trade in exchange for the large amounts money they need to pay for their campaigns?

For incumbents, it’s pretty obvious; they have their vote in Congress.  Rather than having the public provide candidates with the funding they need to run for office, we have put our elected officials in the position where they need to hustle around Washington, night and day, looking for money.

One night, for instance, they might attend a cocktail party fundraiser held in their honor by bankers and Wall Street executives and then, the next morning, they sit down in Congress to make rules about what these same financiers are allowed to do with our retirement money.  That isn’t very smart of us to put them in that position, is it?

As long as we don’t provide a source of limited public monies for election expenses, we can expect our elected officials to continue to sell us out.   They can do it in the form of plain old bribery or by just “getting along by going along,” or by doing nothing when something desperately needs to be done.  We shouldn’t be surprised when good people do some awful things in the process of “earning” their campaign money. According to Citizen Funded Elections as of May 28, 21 incumbent Senators are co-sponsors of the bill S752 for fair elections. These Senators are co-sponsors of the Fair Election Now Act, the solution to the problem of our Senators being dependent on lobbyists and others for money to finance their re-elections. If you want Congress to represent the citizens and not the campaign funders, these Senators are on your side; 71 incumbent Senators have not signed on to sponsor this bill.

These Senators are, in effect, co-sponsors of continuing the current corrupt system of funding elections by payments from the powerful and their lobbyists to the re-election campaigns of current Senators. If you want to continue to have a Congress that represents the campaign funders, and not the citizens, these Senators are on your side.

The bill in the House is HR1826 and the scorecard is: 154 co-sponsors; 281 have not signed on as of 5/28/2010.

If our Senators and our members of the House in Washington aren’t co-sponsors of the solution, then they are co-sponsors of the problem. If our representatives are not yet co-sponsors of the Fair Elections Now Act, ask them, “Why not?”

 We will take a look at more objections by Congress to clean/fair elections in coming weeks. There are signs of encouragement as we start to see elections reflect the will of the people. We can take this country back by stopping the buying of Congress by the special interest groups. We can once again have a government that reflects the will of the people. We may be temporarily ignorant and naïve, but we are not stupid.