Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The money is the message


By Bill Kraus

I think there are three things most can agree on. The first is that money is much too important in politics. The second is that there is too much money in politics. Lastly, there is no known way to limit the amount of money that is flowing into politics.


Certainly there is no way to stem the flow by regulating from above as it were.

Perhaps it can be controlled from the bottom up.

All that candidates have to do is stop spending so much money on the persuasive devices that motivate workers and inspire voters.

Why would they do that?

Because they are in a position to do it if they are convinced that spending more buys less than spending less does.

The excesses of recent years surely have gotten us close to a tipping point where voters are beginning to wonder what and who is being bought by all this money.

Voters are beginning to ask, “Who is contributing all this money?” And, more importantly, since they are not fools, “What or who or both are they buying with it?”

Clearly the Jesse Unruh dictum, “If you can’t eat their food, drink their drinks, take their money, and vote against them, you don’t belong in this business,” no longer applies.

The suspicion level is high and getting higher all the time, and it is the main reason the respect level of those who serve us (or serve someone or something) in public office is below dismal. Worse yet, it is why so many citizens have given up on politics and politicians.

Unfortunately, retribution or correction is not yet ascendant.

The late, great Paul Hassett put it this way several years ago: “Once people begin to connect the dots,” he said, “and see that there is a connection between money in and behavior out” money will lose its power.

A campaign in which I participated a very long time ago followed two rules: Take no more than $100 ($100 was a lot of money in 1952), and take no money from anyone who cannot vote for the candidate.

The judgment at the time was that big contributions and out-of-district contributions, no matter how welcome, cost more in votes than they were worth.

With expensive media the dominant instrument in campaigns now, and with the cost floor of mounting a campaign that draws enough attention to make a candidacy viable a great deal higher than it was in television-less 1952, the numbers have to be adjusted.

The rules too. But not all that much.

If a candidate becomes suspect of being elected to do the bidding of anyone other than the voters he is wooing, are voters going to vote for that candidate? Not if that question is made prominent in the campaign.

If the voters ask, “Who gave you all that money, and why?” the answer has the prospect of deciding how the votes will go.

This bypasses unconstitutional regulation and inserts in its place something between making money itself a stigma and an enemy.

Could 2014 be a tipping point year? Are there any candidates out there who are willing to try what worked in Wisconsin’s 24th state senate district not so long ago and in a governor’s race before then?

The status quo means more and more dialing for more and more candidates, is a turn off for voters and voter participation in the only game for adults, and threatens this fragile and faulty democracy itself.

What would you choose?

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