Thursday, July 03, 2008

Campaign Finance: Reform or Revolution?

submitted by Linda Curtis
Independent Texans
PO Box 14294
Austin, TX 78761

A frustrated Member of Congress once likened the attempts over the last thirty years to reform campaign financing to squeezing a balloon. You restrict the flow of money here, and it just swells up somewhere else. There is always some inventive loophole that can be exploited by wealthy special interests: cut off the flow of soft money (as the McCain-Feingold bill did in 2002), and up pop the 527 organizations (like the infamous "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth"). Barack Obama's decision to opt out of the public campaign finance system has drawn a chorus of criticism from Republicans and some Democrats as well. They point to the shocking fact that he is the first presidential candidate ever to forego general election funding since the system was set up in the post-Watergate era.

Many independents, including the authors of this editorial, believe that the Obama team's internet savvy has done more to enhance the influence of small donors than 30 years of failed campaign finance reforms. No other candidate has harnessed the power of grassroots donors to the degree Obama has: over 1.5 million Americans have contributed to his campaign, and 47 percent of the $263 million raised has come in amounts of $200 or less.

Moreover, Obama is mobilizing hundreds of thousands of volunteers, many who are new to politics, many of them very young. One cannot overstate the importance to the health of our democracy of this massive increase in participation by ordinary citizens. Obama's "post-partisan" rhetoric has been much discussed, but less attention has been given to his unprecedented ability to reach out to voters directly, without the mediation of the party machine – or the "special interests" that smother inclusive dialogue on the important issues facing our nation. Unlike his Republican rival, John McCain, Obama has refused contributions from political action committees and currently-registered lobbyists.

America's campaign finance laws have failed on their promise to deliver a level playing field. That's because in a market economy like ours, it is simply not possible to prevent moneyed interests from exercising undue influence. Successive efforts to close the loopholes in the original reforms have merely complicated compliance, effectively tipping the balance against grassroots candidates and insurgent campaigns that cannot afford high-priced lawyers and have no political influence with the Federal Election Commission. Sen. McCain's well-intentioned efforts to reform our campaign finance system have tried, unsuccessfully, to limit the abuses of the powerful. Meanwhile, Sen. Obama has accomplished something truly revolutionary: he has increased the power of the abused.

Jim Mangia, a longtime independent leader, based in Los Angeles, is the former secretary of the Reform Party USA and co-founder of Linda Curtis, founder of Independent Texans, helped pass a citizens petition initiated city charter amendment in Austin, Texas called "Austinites for A Little Less Corruption" -- a system she believes is a failed reform.

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