Published in The Enterprise, 12-22-97

Do We Want the Best Government Money Can Buy?

by Rocky Anderson

Why haven’t the Democrats been able to field strong candidates to oppose Senator Robert Bennett or Representative Chris Cannon?

Why is the only person currently seeking the Democratic nomination in Utah’s First Congressional District a man whose foremost merit as a candidate is apparently that he is willing to spend $100,000 of his own money on the race?

Why did Joe Cannon and Robert Bennett collectively spend $10 million in their primary race for the Republican nomination?

Why did the three 1996 Utah congressional candidates who outspent their opponents by between 2-to-1 and 4-to-1 win their races?

Why did the better fund-raisers throughout the country prevail in the 1996 congressional primaries 90 percent of the time?

Why did soft money contributions to the Democratic Party during the 1996 election cycle increase since 1992 by 242 percent, to $123.9 million?

Why did soft money contributions to the Republican Party increase by 178 percent, to $138.2 million?

Why do incumbent United States senators and representatives take valuable time away from doing the people’s business to grovel for contributions during hundreds of telephone calls placed from party campaign offices near Capitol Hill?

Why has the Lincoln Bedroom in the White House been rented out to huge soft money donors?

Why has the United States Senate and the United States House of Representatives been filling up with multi-millionaires?

Why has democracy in the United States been eroded, while the special interests have had their way with Congress, often contrary to the best interests of the people of this country?

The answer to all of the above: MONEY CONTROLS. Money buys elections, it buys legislation, and it buys access to the most powerful people in our government. It’s a variant of the Golden Rule: The people with the gold rule.

If there is one common source for our major public policy disasters, it is the system that permits outright bribery in the form of campaign contributions, soft money, honoraria, so-called “issues advocacy” and, on a local level, things like basketball tickets, trips and billboards paid for by those who want their piece of our politicians.

If we want a return from our plutocracy to a democracy, with our interests – and those of our progeny – promoted, we must demand major reforms in our method of financing elections. Without that reform, tenable candidacies will be the exclusive domain of the wealthiest – or of those with the wealthiest sponsors, who will expect and demand a huge return on their investment.

What can we do, now that it is clear our elected political “leaders” do not have the courage or the conviction to do what is needed? We can demand that, before a candidate earns our vote, he or she must commit to support legislation providing for (1) an end to “soft money” contributions to political parties, (2) tighter regulation of “issues advocacy,” (3) voluntary campaign spending limits, with public financing and free television and radio time as incentives for compliance, and (4) aggregate limits on PAC contributions, with lower individual limits than the present $5,000-per-election-cycle limit.

We must tell the Robert Bennetts that their democracy-destroying notion of lifting all contribution limits is unacceptable – and that if their views are so out of synch with ours, their time in the Senate or the House of Representatives is about to expire.

And we must tell the Merrill Cooks and the Chris Cannons that they had better pack their bags and say “goodbye” to Washington if they persist in supporting such abominations as John Doolittle’s bill that would repeal all individual contribution limits.

Even if you are a big contributor, think about it. Is this what you want for our country? And is this the sort of government you want to leave as our legacy for generations to come?

For the sake of our nation’s future, we should join in the grass-roots call for our representatives to reform our system or to step aside so that others can do what has been needed since long before President Nixon sold ambassadorships for $250,000 each and bargained away many millions in taxpayers’ money for the dairy industry in return for hefty campaign contributions.

We must insist, firmly and unequivocally, that our leaders breathe life once again into our government of the people, by the people, and for the people. No less than our democracy is at stake.