Why America Needs a Publicly Funded Electoral System
by Carl Charles Atteniese Jr.
Dear Fellow American Citizen:
A recent study conducted in Britain resulted in the determination that the United States of America is an oligarchy–by virtue of the fact that statistics show the majority of the laws passed here favor the rich and their corporations. It is no longer a left-wing mantra; it’s a fact: We don’t have a democracy any more. And it is because of our election laws and party finance laws.
Think about it; right now, our health, happiness, and security in this country is decided largely by whomever has the most financial influence over a select few candidates who in turn are able to afford the ad campaigns necessary to run for office. They also decide what laws are passed. As it has been accurately said before, ‘that’s an auction’ for political power. Is that what we want?
When it comes to elections–we usually have so few candidates, and that’s why we have to funnel money to candidates who are usually not our first choice–but more are often the lesser of two evils.
Thomas Jefferson said two things were necessary for democracy to thrive–an educated electorate and a free press. That’s all we really need. However, we have a dumbed-down and disenfranchised electorate and a private press, which means the press (the media) is often influenced by who owns it. In addition–and most destructively–we allow money to control our politicians by allowing it to be funneled into campaigns and parties–from corporations and wealthy private citizens who then expect their bidding to be done in office–and it is–to the detriment of truth, our public health, happiness, and security.
Moneyed institutions and banks narrow the size of the political arena and the depth of the national debate by making it near impossible for average, intelligent, and moral citizens to enter politics in America–unless they can compete with the financial saturation of their opponents. And this is precisely how Thomas Jefferson said the American revolution and democracy here would fail and end. He said it would happen when our government fell under the control of banks and moneyed institutions. This is precisely what has happened.
According to Lawrence Lessig, Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, thirty to seventy percent of a congressperson’s time is spent raising money for re-election. Moreover, 0.5% of the population supplies 60% of the funds necessary to put people in government. This one-half of one percent of the people decides with their money who is going to be on the ballot. This means a large part of their time is not spent on us, but on them.
Maybe we have allowed money in politics because we haven’t imagined a more fair system being possible. Maybe we privately feel this wealthy small percentage–who choose our candidates for us–along with the Electoral College, which finally picks our presidents—are the only ones qualified for the job. Maybe we are afraid that if rich white men did not control our politics, we would not be able to run this country or that we would really be a truly multi-ethnic society. I am not afraid of these things. Are you?
Imagine if money weren’t such a factor in candidacy; there would likely be a multitude of candidates–probably so many that we wouldn’t have to worry so much about one or the other getting elected. The more candidates, the more congruent their views would tend to be, so we wouldn’t have to worry so much about which one or the other a person takes. The way things are now, candidates pretend to have vastly different views to strike the illusion of contrast on controversial issues–to differentiate themselves from one another. When really they are not much different at all, except for maybe in the area of social policy and war-making.
We keep supporting a system of elections and policy-making that survives on bribery, which is why we don’t have the foreign or domestic social policy that the majority of us want, nor the energy, education, and civic policies we need, or the environmental ones–necessary to save the planet’s biosphere.
These days, candidates say they’ll advocate a particular policy before being elected and later, as elected representatives, they advocate the opposite. They may believe in the original views that got them elected, but if money is not behind them, they have to abandon those views and values (in whole or in part). They consistently have to severely weaken their positions and propose policies supporting the money–instead of what’s best for the nation, and/or what is righteous, just, and reasonable.
People against publically-funded elections say money is free speech. It isn’t. Robert Reich, Bernie Sanders, and all the people against Citizens United & corporate manipulators like the Koch Brothers say it isn’t either. In politics, money is wealth–either enough or not enough–to influence people unnaturally. And it is bribery, when it is coming from a few billionaires and corporations, who actually often write the bills that become the laws—along with political action committees. The reason they get away with this is they pay off the politicians. It’s legal corruption, plain and simple. That’s not democracy. That’s plain chicanery. That’s oligarchy—rule by the rich. Noam Chomsky calls it polyarchy, because it is not democracy, but many rulers who are not us.
Unnatural political influence also creates ads in the media, and phony scientific studies. It’s hiring pundits, lawyers, and broadcasters, to say something over and over again, which we could hear ONCE in a public service announcement (but probably wouldn’t believe, anyway).
It drums ideas into our heads more frequently and more loudly–to bombard us and inculcate us (to program us) — and usually it is skewed messages, outright lies, or irrelevant information designed to distract us. And it is all possible because of private money. It is an insult to our intelligence and to those who have fought for this country and build it, too. It is un-American. It’s advertising–which is for commercial sales, not the running of a nation.
Let none of the money generated by the tax-based electoral system we advocate–in any way–come into contact with candidates or their parties in such a way that it corrupts them or their values. Let is only contribute to air-time and a few debates.
See what happens. I guarantee that after a short time (shorter than it took to get all members of Congress to obey the law on the Affordable Care Act), no one will take the ad campaigns of the then past system of electoral advertising seriously… over the new public service system of our proposed election and campaign process.
In the system we advocate, there would be an allowance given and press time provided for a set number of introductions to a candidate. So, the funds necessary for a few necessary public appearances by candidates would come from a couple cents on the dollar. That’s it.
We don’t worry about whether the police department is staffed with unskilled law enforcement professionals when we dial 911. That’s because we have a plethora of officers whose candidacy for a public service position on the police force is not determined by or predicated on vested wealth-based private interests. Police officers are hired after a test, a background check, and an interview…. That’s precisely how it should be for the most important jobs in the land: political jobs and the running of our nation!
The closer we bring the electoral system to an interview and job selection scenario and further away from its being an ‘auction and popularity contest’, the sooner we won’t have to be intent on one of two (or several) candidates we don’t totally agree with, and the sooner we will have more options in policy, greater commonality in sensible views, a deeper, more meaningful national debate, and astronomically less corruption.
Here is a recent bill that was introduced in the House, supporting public campaign finance and the politicians and celebrated public figures who have championed the cause of publicly funded elections (from Wikipedia):
US, SB 752, the Fair Elections Now Act, called for publicly funded elections in U.S. Senate campaigns. It was sponsored in the 111th Congress (2009–10) by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Arlen Specter (D-PA). A companion bill, H.R. 1826, was introduced in the House, sponsored by John Larson (D-CT), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), and Walter Jones (R-NC). Neither bill moved out of Committee.
Barack Obama as an Illinois senator was the first co-sponsor of the 2007 version of the Durbin–Specter bill. (Obama chose not to participate in the public financing system in 2008)
John Bonifaz, founder of the National Voting Rights Institute
Bill Bradley (D-NJ), former U.S. Senator
John Edwards (D-NC), former U.S. Presidential Candidate and Senator
Adonal Foyle, NBA player, and founder of Democracy Matters
Cecil Heftel (D-HI), former U.S. Representative
Ned Lamont (D-CT), former U.S. Senate candidate
John McCain (R-AZ), U.S. Presidential Candidate and Senator (McCain has also expressed opposition to a national version of the system and has not endorsed or co-sponsored the bills introduced in the U.S. Senate.)
Ralph Nader of Connecticut, U.S. Presidential Candidate
Janet Napolitano (D-AZ), former Governor, former Secretary of Homeland Security
Bill Richardson (D-NM), U.S. Presidential Candidate and Governor
Eliot Spitzer (D-NY), former Governor
John Eder, Green Party leader who utilized Maine’s public financing to win office to the Maine State Legislature
And Peace, Love, Joy, and Prosperity to You and Yours,
Carl Charles Atteniese Jr.
*In actuality, when it comes to corporate issues and the economy, right wing and left wing candidates do not differ very much on the issues. They appear to be different because of tax-issues, social issues, and their foreign policy stances–and both usually take huge contributions from BOTH SIDES of the political spectrum in the corporate sector (most top companies give money to both parties and the two primary candidates running for office), which is why all the other issues connected to the economy (environmental protection, labor, education, health, energy, and foreign policy) generally get compromised once candidates reach office. Politicians have to start raising money for their next election as soon as they sit down at their desks and they have to compromise their principles to take that money from otherwise hitherto ideologically political “enemies”. Money thus hamstrings our best intentions in this country and that is especially true for the well-intentioned politicians–most especially the good ones. The top sixty corporations generally donate to both parties. That makes you and I a complete back-seat concern, unless we are wealthy corporate officers who can have lobbyists rewrite the laws for us. Why not disallow this? What are we; slaves and second-class citizens? That is exactly what we are–under the present system.
American environmental, economic and national security policies have real international challenges; climate, health, education, and social policy are at critical emergency alert levels; now, more than ever, we the average American citizens must wrest control of our national direction and public policies away from the clutches of corporate and wealth-driven greed. It is essential to our survival as a nation and a species.
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