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electioneering 101

I don't know if you've been paying attention, what with all the other national political hoopla going on, but an important case that's been on my mind was argued before the United States Supreme Court last week.

The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 was an attempt by Congress to significantly close a campaign financing loophole which seems to have a lot to do with the sorry state of national politics in this fair nation. Of course, I refer to "soft money" donations. I will rant about what soft money is and what it means, shortly.

First, however, let me describe "hard money". It turns out that Congress and the United States Supreme Court have been interested in regulating the political contributions of large organizations for about 100 years now. Starting in 1907, Congress said and the Court affirmed that being a big and profitable company (or later Union) did not mean that you could reach into your Treasury and buy yourself an election with a huge contribution. No, businesses and unions could not give the money directly (but rather through a Political Action Committee) and they could only give a limited amount, so as to not have undue influence on the outcome of an election and thereby have undue influence on the elected candidate. This was how things worked until the mid-1970's.

Things changed about 25-30 years ago. It was in the 1970's that the Federal Election Commission decided that there was another type of money that businesses and unions could contribute. This was money for "party related" activities, like voter registration, issue awareness, and "party building". Since, it was oh-so-fictionally thought that somehow these activities were not directly related to electing a candidate, no limits were placed on the amount of money contributed for these activities. Thus was "soft money" born.

"Soft money" has turned out to be a sham, and one that makes me sick. The parties have discovered how to solicit nearly limitless amounts of funds from wealthy individuals and corporations. They then use this money during campaigns for so-called "issue ads" that are so specific as to their message that they don't actually say "vote for candidate X", but, they do say "the other guy is part of a party that doesn't believe like we do and you know what to do on election day".

In return for these funds, there is no quid pro quo, but there is something almost as damaging. It turns out that people who make large donations to both parties do so for personal access to discuss issues that are important. So, if you are the NRA, for example, you give $100,000 and you don't ask for a vote against the next gun control bill, but you do ask for a 2 hour sit down with the person in office to discuss your "concerns". Meanwhile, the elected official across the table who was helped by "issue ads" that the money paid for listens patiently and then wonders where the heck he or she can come up with $100,000 during the next election for "issue ads" if he or she says no. This not only encourages the appearance of corruption and impropriety, it can consciously or unconsciously color the opinions of an elected officials because they spend a lot of time giving their unrestricted attention to large contributors only.

So, in light of the escalating importance of "soft money", the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act was passed by Congress and signed by President G. W. Bush. The BCRA basically recognizes that there is no effective difference between "hard" and "soft" money in practice, and limits large political contributions across the board.

Since the political parties like having large sources of money, they are naturally fighting the constitutionality of the law. The Supreme Court heard arguments about it last week. Campaign donations are seen to be a free speech issue, and an area where the current court fears to tread. So, it is the monied interests as we have all to often seen of late, appealing to a conservative Supreme court for the ability to corrupt government in the name of "free speech".

It all makes me sick. Check out a few articles at the Campaign Legal Center on the subject. There is evidently a lot of paper out there that reads like this:

From: Senator X
To: CEO of "Richer Than Sin, Inc."

re: how are you?

Hi Bob,
Sorry to hear that your wife isn't doing so well. Thanks again for the $100K, and I look forward to spending two hours to hear out your concerns on the pending bill at the lodge at Vale next month.

Senator X
Should a liberal democracy carry out business this way? I think not. Will it continue to do so? I think so.... and that scares me.

said drgeek on 2003-09-17 at 1:32 p.m.


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