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Brought To You By Wal-Mart? | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

Brought To You By Wal-Mart?

What with Bush and his cronies on the road to raking in an unprecedented $200 million this campaign season, I admit it's hard to focus on small ticket outrages. But it's still worth looking at what's going on in South Carolina, where the state Democratic Party is considering allowing corporations to sponsor its next presidential primary.

It turns out that South Carolina is one of only two states that require the state parties to pay for the primaries, rather than picking up the tab itself. And, according to Democratic chief Joe Erwin, raising the estimated $500,000 in a soft economy has been tough. So, Erwin--a Greenville advertising executive--got the idea of soliciting corporate sponsorships, which he describes as a creative takeoff on the way ballparks sell ads on scoreboards or colleges name buildings after companies.

So, corporations could sponsor get-out-the-vote ads or signs outside polling places. According to the Charlotte Observer, the party originally considered allowing corporate sponsors to put their names on the ballot, but Erwin ruled that out. "It just didn't pass the common-sense test," he said.

Paul Sanford, counsel for the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics, said selling space on election materials is probably legal, though he's troubled by the possibility. "I don't really think it's a good thing to commercialize the voting process." As David Donnelly of Campaign Money Watch, adds: "Imagine if South Carolina had the ballot initiative process and there was a health care question before voters, and HMOs and pharmaceutical companies contributed big money to pay for the election, and then they sponsored get-out-the vote campaigns or ran ads at polling places?"

Democracy belongs to all of us. But, with so many public services being privatized--from education and sanitation pick-ups to incarceration and mass transportation, are privatized elections next? Without real reform, it's not hard to imagine that in the not-too-distant future we'll walk into our polling places to find ballots "Brought to you by Wal-Mart".

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Can America Afford The Price Of Democracy?

Here's another under-reported story about money and politics. It turns out that the budget crisis has led some states to decide democracy is too expensive to maintain. Citing budget pressures, three states have cancelled their 2004 presidential primaries.

In Colorado, Governor Bill Owens (R) cancelled the primary on March 5th, saving the state $2.2 million. The Republican-controlled Utah legislature followed suit, cancelling the 2004 primary--a measure supported by their Republican Governor. And in Kansas, Democratic Governor Kathleen Sebelius cancelled her state's 2004 primary, saving approximately $1.75 million next year. But critics have pointed out that partisan politics also contributed to these measures because cancellations prevent the field of Democratic candidates from getting much public attention.

As Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano (D) said in vetoing Republican-sponsored legislation to cancel the primary in her state, "Arizona can well afford the price of democracy."

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