Friday, October 17, 2003

Throwing Money At the Problem
As political consultants have devised more and more ways to use money to influence election outcomes, it is becoming more common for multi-millionaires or billionaires to try to buy their way into political office. The upside to this is that those candidates often accept no other contributions (unlike Arnold Schwarzenegger as I noted in Tuesday's post), and so aren't beholden to anyone. But the problem is that this creates an unlevel playing field that keeps other qualified candidates from running, or worse yet forces them to cater to big money interests in order to compete with the millionaire candidate.

The common sense solution would simply be to limit the total amount each candidate can spend, whether they raise the money from their own pockets or from others. That way, all candidates would be on a level playing field.

But politicians sometimes don't use common sense. Instead, our U.S. Congress has passed a law that allows candidates to raise six times as much money from the biggest donors when they face a self-financed opponent. This just makes a bad situation worse, and makes it that much harder for any honest candidate to try to compete by raising small contributions from regular folks.

A story in today's New York Times highlights how this new law is playing out in Illinois. Perhaps the best line in the story is this:

Most campaign finance laws limit money into the system," said William Baroni, a New Jersey elections lawyer. "This is an odd law because the object is to increase money into the system."

The story incorrectly states that this bizarre provision to increase big money in politics has not been challenged in court. I am actually one of the plaintiffs that has challenged this harebrained scheme. The Supreme Court will be ruling on it shortly, although I wouldn't count on those 9 folks to help the rest of us take our democracy back. For the most part, the Court has taken the side of the fat cats and the politicians in these issues, rather than looking at things from the voters point of view.

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