Bi-Partisanship to Believe In?
This coming Wednesday 25 March 2009, Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) are introducing the Fair Elections Now Act. It would create, at long last, a public elections finance system that would ban lobbyist money in elections and would manage to keep the campaigns competitive for candidates who take the money. I hope it includes mandatory free air time on TV so that candidates don’t have to spend tons of cash on commercials. If this passes, it should mean that more candidates who are not indebted to special interests (and, thus, are more responsive to the citizens they are supposed to represent) would be elected, strengthening our democracy.
I know some liberals who gave up on public financing when the Obama campaign managed to out-raise the Republican money machine through the internet and using mostly small contributions and no lobbyists. But this model cannot be easily replicated without a charismatic figure like Obama and, in a recession, such fundraising is not as likely to be successful. A level playing field (so that we pick candidates on the issues, their character, etc., not on who has enough money to keep his/her name in front of us the most) is really needed for an effective democracy.
Senators Durbin and Specter expect that a similar bill will have many co-sponsors in the House. However, I expect it to be strongly opposed by Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) who believes that money and speech are identical and that campaign finance laws thus violate the 1st Amendment’s protections of free speech!! (McConnell infamously appealed the previous attempt at campaign finance reform, the McCain/Feingold Act, to the Supreme Court and managed to get the best parts of it declared unconstitutional!)
Can a genuinely fair elections law get passed Congress? I am sure Pres. Obama would sign such legislation if it did. Will the recent Democratic fundraising successes (in both ’06 and ’08, the Dems out-raised the GOP) finally convince enough Republicans to cooperate? Will any election law with teeth pass this incredibly rightwing Supreme Court?
One thing’s for sure: If the answers to the above questions are all “yes,” and we do get real election reform, then the hedge fund types won’t be calling the shots in D.C. as much–whether they are buying off Dems or Repubs. We could actually end up with a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” instead of “of the money, by more money, and for the special interests WITH the money.” Wow. That would almost be like living in a real democratic republic instead of a plutocracy–like Canada or New Zealand, maybe.
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