Public financing of
is urgently needed
U.S. Rep Andy Barr, who bows in deference to the banking lobby which donates tons of cash to his campaigns. Click image to enlarge.
OUTSTANDING ENTERPRISE REPORTING and an editorial in The New York Times on Sunday have put back onto the national agenda the single most important issue in America today – the one that is at the root of all evil.
It is, alas, also an issue little discussed.
The system of campaign finance in the U.S. is nothing short of legalized bribery. It distorts political outcomes to favor the rich while screwing the poor.
“The Cash Cow Committee” is the headline on the second editorial in Sunday’s editions of The New York Times.
If I was the headline writer, I would have called it: “The root of all evil.”
The only solution is public financing of election campaigns.
“THE SLEAZY FLOW OF CASH cries out for a public financing system for Congressional elections …” writes The Editorial Board of The New York Times in “The Cash Committee.”
The editorial was evoked by the outstanding story published Aug. 10 by Eric Lipton that exposed – again – the utter corruption so blatantly flaunted by members of the House Financial Services Committee.
Eric Lipton’s story in The New York Times exposing corruption on the House Financial Services Committee. Click image to enlarge.
In his 1420-word thoroughly researched expose For Freshmen in the House, Seats of Plenty Lipton recounts the way the system works for the 61 members of the most powerful committee in the House, and one egregious flaunter in particular, Rep. Andy Barr, a Republican from Kentucky.
“One afternoon in April, Mr. Barr hosted credit union lobbyists and executives in his House office just before a committee hearing, promising that he would help protect a federal tax break worth $500 million a year,” Lipton writes.
Then in July, Barr introduced legislation “to eliminate a new federal rule intended to prevent banks from issuing mortgages to customers who could not afford to repay the debt — a measure pushed by bank lobbyists who had visited his office.”
Why is Barr, a first-time elected official, so friendly with the banking industry?
Lipton lays it all bare:
“Mr. Barr, 40, … has raised nearly as much money this year ($150,000) from political action committees run by major banks, credit unions and insurance companies as longtime lawmakers like Speaker John A. Boehner and other party leaders.”
Can you spell Quid pro quo?
But that is not all
“Mr. Barr has introduced separate legislation that would permanently exempt banks that keep mortgages in their own portfolio from a requirement in Dodd-Frank (the feeble attempt at financial system reform) that they follow a prescribed set of steps to ensure that customers can afford the loans.”
If you have not yet vomited, you have a stronger stomach than I.
IN ITS EDITORIAL, The Times calls, as an interim measure, for support for the Empowering Citizens Act introduced just a year ago by two Democrats, David Price of North Carolina and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.
The web site of GovTrack.com that tracks legislation in Congress. Click image to enlarge.
According to the authoritative web site govtrack.com the bill, HR 6448, now has eight co-sponsors, seven Democrats and one Republican –Walter Jones (R-NC3).
This bill was introduced on September 20, 2012, in a previous session of Congress, but was not enacted.
Its official title is:
“To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to reform the system of public financing for Presidential elections, to establish a system of public financing for Congressional elections, to promote the disclosure of disbursements made in coordination with campaigns for election for Federal office, and for other purposes.”
Enactment of this bill would be an improvement, but not even close to a solution.
The thorough corruptness of the system of campaign finance was enormously exacerbated with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision of January 2010 known as “Citiznes United.”
This decision unleashed a flood of corporate cash into the 2012 presidential campaign (and many others) the likes of which had never been seen before.
According to OYEZ at Chicago Kent College of Law
“By a 5-to-4 vote along ideological lines, the majority held that under the First Amendment corporate funding of independent political broadcasts in candidate elections cannot be limited.”
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts and Justices Antonin G. Scalia, Samuel A. Alito, and Clarence Thomas.”
Citizens United has had such a profound effect on campaign financing that nothing short of total abolition of the current system – replacing it with complete public financing – can hope to solve the problem.
U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, the only Republican sponsor of the Empowering Citizens Act. Click image to enlarge.
And the problem is huge.
“A small donor revolution in American politics is essential to protect the integrity of our democracy,” said the group Democracy 21 in a Sept 21, 2012 endorsement of the Empowering Citizens Act.
That is not an understatement.
The statement of Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer continues:
“Citizens will not stand by and allow a small number of very wealthy individuals, corporations and powerful interest groups to dominate the financing of our elections and to corrupt government decisions with influence-seeking money.”
But it says, “the Empowering Citizens Act is key to achieving this goal.”
I respectfully disagree. It just isn’t enough.
“The Empowering Citizens Act (H.R. 6448) is legislation to empower citizens to play a central role in financing both presidential and congressional elections by matching small contributions from individuals up to $250 per donor with multiple public funds on a 5 to 1 basis.
“In return candidates who participate in the matching funds system would agree to abide by a limit on contributions from individuals reduced to one-half of the $2,500 contribution per donor, per election they can currently accept.”
Will this stop the abhorrent abuses exposed by Eric Lipton on the House Financial Services Committee?
Perhaps, but not very likely.
The Brennan Center for Justice endorses the Empowering Citizens Act. Click image to enlarge.
ACCORDING TO LIPTON, the Democratic party, after the 2012 election, urged freshmen members to spend up to five hours per day (of our time paid for with our tax dollars) raising campaign funds.
Now we know why so little of importance ever gets done in the House. The members spend 60 percent of their time raising campaign cash.
In endorsing the Empowering Citizens Act the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law said:
“The proposal builds on other efforts to address the influence of big money in politics – including the
Fair Elections Now Act sponsored by Rep. John Larson and the Grassroots Democracy Act recently introduced by Rep. John Sarbanes – and provides the blueprint for a small donor revolution that will restore ordinary citizens to their rightful, preeminent role in our democracy.”
The evidence is conclusive that a piecemeal approach to campaign finance reform is never going to gain traction.
While all these efforts are laudable, there is ultimately only one solution.
Public financing of elections: it works well in many other democracies, and it would be the beginning of the end for so many of the intractable issues that divide our nation and make the political system in Washington and elsewhere so incapable of solving them.
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