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Thursday, March 31, 2005

Politicians Earn Votes the Old-Fashioned Way - They Buy Them

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As Beth Hundsdorfer reports in the Belleville News-Democrat, four East St. Louis people were recently charged with paying people $5 to $10 to vote Democrat in the 2004 election. The three precinct committeemen and one precinct worker that were charged in federal court with vote-buying alleged that they were given some $5,200 two days before the election by the St. Clair County Democratic Central Committee (SCDCC) to go out and buy votes.

The plot thickens. The biggest contributor to the SCDCC was Mark Kern, who also happened to be a candidate in a closely contested race for chairman of the St. Clair County Board. Kern gave $37,100 to the SCDCC one day before the election. Kern ended up losing the county vote outside East St. Louis, but his landslide victory in the city helped him to win election as chairman of the board.

County party committees are often used as a vehicle to circumvent campaign finance laws. In this case, votes were actually bought with money contributed to a county committee, but many times the violation is funneling money to a candidate through a committee to avoid contribution limits.

Opponents of reform love to cry wolf when it comes to regulating money in politics. From their cushy positions at well-financed think-tanks, they claim that spending money is free speech. Allowing rich people to contribute millions to political parties and candidates? Free speech. Allowing rich people to give millions of dollars to sham committees to circumvent campaign finance laws? Free speech.

Well guys, how about buying votes? These folks were just spending a little money to influence the outcome of an election, right? What's five dollars compared to the $4,000 that McCain-Feingold allows a person to give a candidate for the primary and general election? What's five dollars compared to the twenty million that George Soros gave to 527s last year? What's five measly bucks compared to the $1.5 million Jerry Perenchio gave to a ballot committee?

Under our current system, money wins elections. 91% of congressional primary elections in 2004 were won by the candidate who had the most money. When we allow a tiny fraction of society to wield such an enormous influence over our elections with their wealth, the rest of us lose just as much as the folks in East St. Louis do when their county Democratic Party goes out and buys votes at five bucks a pop.

I'm sure the ivory-tower think-tankers and their wealthy paymasters would try to tell you different.

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