I get fundraising solicitations all the time. At work. At home. In the mail. In my in-box. Over the phone. Sometimes over the fax.
I even got a letter from Vice President Dick Cheney subtly suggesting that, for a thousand bucks, I could be a “neighborhood leader.” Wonder what my neighbors would say? (He actually started the letter by saying that I must have forgotten to answer the previous letter I got from the President. Sorry, Dick, I was busy writing my weblog exposing your Administration‘s numerous assaults on women.)
I get these invitations because I give once in awhile. There’s no other choice right now–the polluters give, so do the HMOs and pharmaceutical giants, and the K Street crowd. If a progressive stands a chance, he or she’s got to have some money. (There’s little chance we can compete with corporate wealth, but that doesn’t mean we should hamstring good people who are running.) But we shouldn’t kid ourselves. If all we do is try to keep up in the money chase we’ll never get anywhere. Money-intensive politics in a country where wealth is so unequally distributed will forever tilt against the majority.
That’s why we need a comprehensive break from the campaign finance status quo. We need to give candidates who can demonstrate public support an alternative way to run for office without having to rely on deep-pocketed donors. The full public financing systems in place in Maine and Arizona lend hope. (Click here for info on how these systems work.)
Obviously, the partial public financing system, put in place for the primaries a generation ago to prevent the buying of the presidency, is no longer serving its purpose. President Bush has opted again to circumvent its spending limits by foregoing matching funds, and instead turning to corporate America to pay for his re-election.
If you doubt the detrimental effects of putting the White House up for sale, go to Public Citizen’s new website . Or, for fun, check out Public Campaign’s GeorgeWBuy.com. Bush is on track to raise $200 million or more, double his take from four years ago. If the last few years are any guide, he’s going to be delivering even more policy paybacks to all his big donors should he win re-election.
So what is to be done? It’s not enough to get in the trenches for whatever Democratic candidate you think has the best shot at beating Bush. We’ve got to also make sure that by the time 2008 rolls around, the whole presidential campaign finance system is on a far fairer footing.
That means full public funding for candidates once they gather a large number of relatively small contributions–not a never-ending money chase where our clean public dollars are used to match contributions from private givers. And it means making more public money available–say $75 million for the primaries–and giving some of it out earlier and getting rid of the state-by-state spending limits, which everyone evades anyway, and instead distributing the public funds in timed chunks, to force the candidates to spread their spending across the primary calendar. It also means, as is the case in Maine and Arizona, making additional funds available to match big-spending privately financed candidates, since there is no Constitutional right to drown out your opponent with your wallet.
Signing the “Lincoln Call: A Presidency Of, By, and For the People” issued last week by Public Campaign and Public Campaign Action Fund is a step in the right direction. Thousands already have signed on. I have.
The Lincoln Call lays out a vision (“We cannot preach democracy to the world when the leaders of our country are forced to sell access and influence to the highest bidder.”). It sets the bar high for any presidential candidate considering his or her own campaign finance reform proposal precisely because it doesn’t ask, “What is possible in Washington today?” Rather, the Lincoln Call forces the question, “How do we measure our progress against the ideals of democracy, against the principle of one person, one vote?”
Click here to take the first step. Then get involved. Bird-dog the candidates. Write letters to the editor. Call your local talk-radio host. Make sure they have a good answer to the present campaign finance mess. And keep your eyes on the prize.