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Wednesday, January 12, 2005

A New Era of Reform in Florida?

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According to an AP story in the St. Petersburg Times, Lawton "Bud" Chiles III is planning on running for Governor of Florida in 2006:
"The primary reason I'm running ... is because I feel like people's access to
government is limited by money, power and politics," Chiles said. "The average
Joe citizen is pretty much disenfranchised from the system."

Chiles's views about what's wrong with government seem to jibe with those of his father, Lawton "Bud" Jr., a three-time Senator and two-time Governor of Florida. In 1976, Chiles Jr. put a $10 limit on contributions to his re-election campaign to the U.S. Senate. In 1982, he took no more than $100 from contributors in winning his third term as Senator, a self-imposed limit he used again in winning the 1990 and 1994 gubernatorial races over opponents with significantly more campaign cash than him.

The answer to the problems caused by big money in elections may not be for individual candidates to impose limits on themselves. (Although mayoral candidates in Portland, Oregon and Peoria, Illinois have done so.) Given the record sums of big money pouring into political races around our country, Chiles III would likely find it more difficult to limit himself to $100 contributions now than his father did even ten years ago.

A better solution is to ensure that all candidates must abide by a system which does not create a favored class of donors at the expense of the political voice of the rest of us. Arizona and Maine currently have successful public financing of political campaigns to accomplish this. Montana, Vermont, and Colorado level the political playing field for their citizens with contribution limits of $200 or less for candidates for the state legislature.

Regardless, Mr. Chiles's recognition that the system needs fixing comes as a welcome sign for Americans fed up with cozy ties between the nation's wealthy elites and puffy-pocketed politicians.

UPDATE: Lloyd Dunkelberger reports in The Lakeland Ledger that Chiles is considering limiting the amount of money he accepts from any contributor to a "fairly low threshold" to allow more people to participate in his campaign.

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