Campaign Finance or Legal Bribes?
Why is campaign finance reform an important issue? Why is it considered by some to be one of the perennial issues of the America experiment? In short, how we finance our campaigns determines who holds the reigns of power in our government. Currently, our campaign laws are so weak that even if a candidate gets caught red-handed taking money from Foreign Governments, dedicated to America’s destruction, that candidate if elected, only has to give the money back and perhaps (depending on the political party in power and the political party in question) must pay a fine for their ‘indiscretion’. This form of ‘punishment’ amounts to little more that a low interest loan on the money in question which must be paid if, and only if, the offender gets caught taking what used to be referred to as a bribe. While disclosure appears to be a little more transparent today, revelations of illegal campaign contributions only follow after the ballots are counted and the new Candidate has the reigns of power including, if elected the office of President. This office gives administrative control of the Justice Department and Federal Election Commission.
While this may sound a little too cynical for some readers, perhaps a much more aggressive FEC with the power to withhold the ascension to office from someone suspected of serious campaign finance abuses would be a credible deterrent. This coupled with the serious and credible threat of prison time would quickly clean up the way America finances its campaigns. However, these reforms while perhaps welcome, are not going to come any time soon. At least not until there is a real public outcry against the abuses that transpire in our system today. Some of these which abuses occur are institutional in nature. Primarily this comes from a de-facto but not de-jure one party system. This allows only those member of the ‘anointed’ two parties to have access to critical, government regulated airwaves (via the FCC) and media outlets, (NBC, CBS, ABC,CNN, etc.). This provides the candidates with the ability enumerate his views to the public at large and provides the candidate with the ‘instant credibility’ that television gives. This is not available to third party candidates, unless they can finance their own campaigns (ala the recent spate of multi-million or billionaires running for office). Unfortunately, this is the way of the American system has degenerated. The media has the power to withhold access to the general public of candidates it does not like. A person capable of raising the millions of dollars needed for a Presidential or Senate run can still purchase air-time from the networks, after ads have been carefully screened for corporate approved content.
In some states, simply gaining ballot access is almost impossible for third party’s because of laws designed specifically to keep, what is commonly referred to as ‘fringe’ candidates from cluttering the ballot. This gives an effective ‘state sanction’ to the two mainstream parties. While obstructing alternative viewpoints from the public is not something the Corporate media advertises as an implicit policy, it has never been truer than today. It can be argued that keeping skinheads and Klansman off the airwaves is in everyone’s interest. However, the degree of corporate censorship has far surpassed such an understandable degree of self-censorship. Denying access to candidates which do not ‘tow’ the corporate line (i.e., support of NAFTA, WTO, under the guise of ‘free-trade) has found extreme difficulty in gaining any real media access. Instead, the views of critics of these agreements had to be enumerated by the news anchors themselves, often characterizing those who do not favor free trade as ‘not looking out for America’s best interest’, or as ‘a small right wing minority’, or ‘nationalistic reactionaries’. These characterizations are unfair and serve to underscore two factors. First the unwillingness of the mainstream media to allow articulate candidates and policy-makers to air their concerns in the media and 2) the fact that corporate interests, which lobbied heavily for these bills, have obtained an effective ‘veto’ over who and what get on the air. This also true at campaign time, when candidates who have some meaningful input into the debate and cannot not get corporate sponsorship, are drowned out.
Recently a reform candidate hopeful has threatened to file a lawsuit against those individuals who hold presidential debates against them denying access to candidates based on no particular reason than their personal dislike for the candidate. But ballot access is a problem for all those with an alternative view. Indeed, the worst enemy of third parties is hampered by state legislatures and the courts, both of which have vested financial and political interests in the two party system, and maintaining the status quo. This is done by a variety of administrative means, from reducing the time needed for gaining signatures and filing (i.e., Illinois State legislature, HB 1790). It is also accomplished by punishing those who use the courts to gain access to the debates, (DeBauche v Trani & Virginia Commonwealth University, 98-1658) in which the plaintiff while attempting to participate in election debates where the two corporate parties were invited, and the third party was not. The plaintiff was ordered by the court to pay $48,476.70 to the defendants. These types of decisions are typical, and show a pattern of fear by the establishment of certain ideas that may not be beneficial to those who have held power in America for the past one hundred years.
It is unfair to make snap judgments about all elected officials in the two parties. It is also unfair to give them more credit than they deserve. Current campaign finance laws are ineffective, as they were designed to be. Ballot access for third party candidates is a real fear to the pockets of the Democratic and Republican parties. The two parties may not agree on much, but on this issue they walk in lockstep, effectively stating in arrogance, "Only we will raise millions of dollars in funds from corporate America and we will ensure it stays that way." Copyright © 2000 Mark S. Watson
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