Tuesday, May 11, 2004
Some folks in Petaluma, California are trying to lessen the role that money plays in local politics. As Jose L. Sanchez reports here in The Press Democrat, these small-d democrats have collected over 4,000 signatures for an initiative to reduce the amount individuals can give to City Council candidates from $500 to $200 for every two-year election cycle. (See here for Derek's March post on the beginning of the effort.)
More power to 'em. Opponents of campaign finance reform like to use the high cost of political campaigns as one of their excuses for allowing wealthy donors to give unlimited amounts to political candidates. But what exactly are candidates spending so much money on? Tom Knudsen, a former President of the Petaluma Area Chamber of Commerce has this to say about it:
The money goes into mailings, and those I've seen have been distortions. Less money, less hit pieces.
This doesn't only apply to local politics either. We've all seen how the game is played at the national level: high-paid consultants pay huge sums of money for attack ads or glossy candidate infomercials that tell us very little about where any candidate stands on the issues. And yet, these ads justify allowing big money to dominate the political discussion in our country? What? These politicians and their expensive ads remind me more of the spiraling volume of kids yelling over one another in the sandbox than informed political discussion.
Maybe more money isn't the answer for solving the communication gap between us and the people who are supposed to represent us. Maybe big money even acts as a buffer between we the people and those who would serve us, excusing the amount of time that candidates and elected officials spend collecting campaign contributions from "leaders" (read: rich people) instead of talking to normal folks who are struggling to pay for health care costs for their family or college for their kids, or are worried about where their next job is going to come from when the "leaders" export it offshore to increase their profits. Maybe big money is the engine driving much of what is wrong with American politics.
Regardless, the folks in Petaluma are trying to make their town a better place to live, and their government more responsive to their needs. As such, their efforts deserve our best wishes and close observation. Because maybe, just maybe, they're on the right track.