Thursday, January 22, 2004

Money Talks

First, to answer your question. You are a lawyer, you support the candidate favored by your industry, you earn approximately 5 times the median US income. Are your interests the same as the average American? Will issues that directly impact lower and middle income familes resonate as strongly with you as with them? You can answer that. On an individual basis that answer may be yes. From an aggregate perspective, probably not. And even you, who earn more than 95% of US households, state that you would give more than the $300-400 you've given now if you can afford it. Who do you think can afford to be giving $2000? If $300 contributors arguably have a different perspective and priorities compared to the general population, how much more true will that be of people who can afford to give $2000?

The frontrunner argument lacks traction in view of the percentages. George W. Bush may have more small contributions than anyone, but his ratio of cash raised from big money contributors to small donors shows who he depends on for his money. That ratio is heavily tilted in favor of big spenders. Edwards's ratio is worse.

I don't think anyone on either side of the spectrum will argue that big money is having a corrupting influence on our political system. Even the Supreme Court acknowledged in their campaign finance decision. This is the form that corruption takes. We don't have a problem with money under the table, with out and out bribes. The problem is that candidates know where their money comes from and they make sure that it will still be there when they come back for more. From the donors' perspective, they simply select candidates who they think will advance their interests and use their money to put them in office. Thousand dollar donors (which used to be the top limit) put over $300 million into the 2000 election. That's a lot of raw political power. With the McCain-Feingold bill that could double this year. Enron employees alone, in the decade from 1990-2000, kicked $6 million in to politicians, according to US PIRG. Just because they are individual contributions does not mean they don't represent special interests. This disporportionate exercise of power undermines the one person-one vote democratic principle.

Edwards talk a good game, as I mentioned from my viewing of his speech. But then both parties do. Just about every candidate of any party at any level that runs for office rails against the influence of special interests and big money. But little has been accomplished. Why? Because they live and die by that money. Being whores to big campaign contributions is a bi-partisan proposition. Both parties let Microsoft off the hook in their anti-trust case, both parties passed the ineffective and pork-laden energy bill, both parties passed Bush's tax cut for wealthy campaign contributors, both parties passed the DMCA and the copyright extensions, both parties allowed the SEC to rot and wither, and when Enron blew up, Democrats couldn't attack Republicans for it despite the clear ties, because they were too far in bed with Wall Street and the accounting firms who were also involved. They can talk all the bullshit they want about special interests and big money. But the evidence shows that when it comes down to it, money talks, bullshit walks.

I've read Edwards's policies and they amount to slapping a few restrictions on registered lobbyists. This isn't the problem. The money, and the dependency of politicians on that money is the problem. As far as I can tell, Edwards would do nothing about this. He likes to make a big deal about being the only candidate not to take money from PAC's, as if that were also the problem. It's not. The total funding Dean, Kerry, and Clark together have gotten from PAC's is less than $100,000. It's small potatoes compared to the $8+ million Edwards has gotten from $2000 contributors. That's 65% of his funding. Without them, he's not even in this race. I can guarantee you he knows that. I don't find him credible on this issue, nor do I believe his reforms would have any significant impact.

Take away all of Howard Dean's $2000 contributions and he's still got more money than any of the other Democrats. That gives him a sort of independence that the other candidates don't have. His reform proposals strike directly at the heart of the problem and move the US much closer to a publicly funded campaign model. I find him to be personally more credible and policiy-wise more effective than Edwards.

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