Polls show that most Americans think there is too much money in politics. A majority wants campaign finance reform. But there is plenty of disagreement on just what should be done to reform the system. The citizens’ lobby Common Cause, for example, favors public financing. But I don’t like public financing because I think it is unfair to force taxpayers to finance the campaigns of politicians they don’t want elected to office.
I sure wouldn’t want to see my money used to purchase TV time for a Nazi. Or for Sarah Palin. Nor would I want to subsidize Rupert Murdock. As his net worth has been estimated at $8.3 billion, that would seem particularly absurd in light of the difference between his financial resources and my own.
I think I have a better idea — a nine-point solution which could be made possible by amendments to the U.S. Constitution:
1. Limit political contributions to donations from individuals. Totally outlaw campaign contributions from corporations, unions, committees and other groups.
2. Place a cap on the amount of money any individual can donate to a candidate or party each year. A limit of — let’s say — $100 per person would assure that wealthy people have no more influence on their representatives than other individuals.
3. Reduce the tremendous costs of campaigns by providing for free and equal air time on television and radio for all qualified candidates for office. I find it nothing short of outrageous that commercial stations, which are licensed to use the public airwaves for private gain — but are supposed to do so in the public interest — charge candidates for public office to use the public’s own airwaves.
4. Limit these free campaign radio and television programs to broadcast within eight weeks prior to the election, thereby encouraging shortened campaign periods.
5. Outlaw the use of commercial advertising spots for political purposes. Candidates and ballot measures should not be sold like soda pop and hemorrhoid creams. This leads inevitably to the distortion of the truth and the demeaning of the political process.
6. Outlaw the use of paid signature gatherers to qualify candidates, political parties, propositions or measures for the ballot. This would greatly reduce the number of such measures to those which are sincerely desired by significant numbers of individuals.
7. Eliminate the Electoral College in favor of direct election of the president and vice president of the United States by the citizens.
8. Force the U.S. Senate to abide by majority rule on all votes, eliminating the totally undemocratic filibuster, which is not sanctioned by the Constitution in the first place.
9. Eliminate the totally undemocratic Presidential veto. One person should not be able to thwart the democratic will of both the House and Senate.
Will this ever happen?
If Congress can spend its time seriously considering such unneeded and silly amendments to the Constitution as outlawing flag-burning, which they have done repeatedly in the past, surely they can debate an amendment which would take our democracy back from the corporations and special interest groups. This is especially true now that the Supreme Court has ruled that the Constitution as it stands now allows corporations and other organizations to spend as much money as they want to influence politics. A Constitutional amendment is the only way of keeping our government one which is by, for, and of the people, and preventing corporate rule of our government as well as our economy.
But Congress is not likely to pass such proposed amendments, since congressmen and women are in their seats to begin with because they have succeeded at the corrupt system we now have in place. So these Constitutional amendments may have to take the other route specified by the Constitution but never yet used: A Constitutional Convention would have to be called by two-third of the legislatures of the States, and that Convention would have to propose these amendments. They would then be sent to the states to be approved by three-fourths of the legislatures or conventions.
For all this to happen the American people will have to finally wake up to the fact that real health care insurance reform, financial system overhaul, economic structural changes, and any other major reform, depends on this most basic of all reforms: getting rid of what Will Rogers famously called “the best Congress money can buy,” and turning our nation into a true democracy.
Fred Flaxman is the author of Sixty Slices of Life … on Wry: The Private Life of a Public Broadcaster.