The Evil of Access
Paul Taylor, executive director of the Alliance for Better Campaigns, a nonpartisan group that advocates free airtime, sums up the scam: "Our government gives broadcasters free licenses to operate on the public airwaves.... During the campaign season, broadcasters turn around and sell access to these airwaves to candidates at inflated prices." He proposes that candidates who win their parties' nominations receive vouchers for electronic advertising in their general election campaigns. Candidates, particularly from urban areas, who don't find it cost-effective to advertise on television or radio could trade their vouchers to their party in exchange for funds to pay for direct mail or other forms of communication. As historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. writes, "America is almost alone among the Atlantic democracies in declining to provide political parties free prime time on television during elections." If it did so, it would "do much both to bring inordinate campaign costs under control and revitalize the political parties."
For those who universalize the political moment and doubt we'll ever have public financing, a spending ceiling or free TV, please remember that you're right if reformers don't try.
The history of America shows a "capacity for self-correction." Even the Supreme Court, given enough time, has reversed itself on such issues as affirmative action, right to counsel, poll taxes and health and safety regulations.
Only such apologists for the status quo as George Will could believe it's OK for a powerful 0.1 percent of the population to make $1,000 contributions to dictate policy to the other 99.9 percent; for only the rich or the kept to win office; for candidates to spend three-quarters of their time raising money so that the toll-takers known as broadcasters will allow public candidates to speak to the public over our publicly owned airwaves.
"History is like waves lapping at a cliff," wrote French historian Henry See. "For centuries nothing happens. Then the cliff collapses."