Government

VIEWPOINT: Contributions to the deflation of your vote

October 6, 2008

Lots of people believe that campaign contributions and the influence that surrounds them are actually bribery.

While it's true that some contributions are made with no strings of any kind attached, still many voters find it difficult to believe that cam paign contributions don't influence government in favor of the contributor. Others believe it's part of free speech.

I recognize that campaigns need money. How we contribute, however, can amount to bribery and undue influence. Democracy should be about ideas, not just the party, and not just the money.

If this money were really just campaign contributions, we'd write the checks with our taxpayer IDs and send them to a bonded escrow organization. We'd be happy knowing that our favored candidate is able to spread his or her message. That organization in turn would cut a single weekly check to the targeted campaign fund. The same escrow organization would keep the list of donors secret and tabulate donations to ensure they conform with the law, so there would be no surprises.

Donors could not be exposed or listed for any reason save a court order. Those who needed to crow about a contribution could wave the canceled check around. Automatically inserting a contributor's data into a mind-numbing direct mail/email and/or phone-calling campaign would end.

There's a good reason why this method might actually aid free speech. Were the contributions really made solely to help the expenses of the electable official, the identity of the contributor and amount contributed to the electable official wouldn't matter, right? It would all still be tax deductible to the extent contributions are today. Excess contributions would be returned at the end of the election, rather than serving as a retirement or slush fund for the candidate.

Perhaps such an escrow organization might also serve as a gating method to another problem that has a direct effect on free speech-campaign contributions made from those outside of a district or area's electorate. After all, if voters within an area are to elect an official to represent the voters of that area, don't contributions from unaffected people outside that area actually interfere in the democratic process? Outside money, whether from a political party's target funds or a Free Cuba committee, diminishes our vote and our capacity to express our desires within a democracy.

Routinely, contributions are made to influence the outcome of elections that take place in districts where contributors don't live. Political parties do this as well, especially in districts where their candidate might be "shaky," or where a party believes influence needs to be born. Political action committees, corporate entities, and other groups make contributions in a similar way. Get them out of here. The dis tricts we vote in belong to us.

I've also heard the argument that corporations, PACs, not-for-profits and other artificial bodies shouldn't be allowed to contribute at all, regardless of where they exist-the rationale is that they're not people, just forces we've allowed to influence outcomes. Money talks, and lots of money talks loudly-louder than individuals. It's an unfairness that ultimately affects us all with its deafening results that are now controlled outside the actual electorate.

Removing the apparent quid pro quo of campaign contributions for influence can rebuild integrity and allow elected officials to focus upon the only ones that should really elect them: individual citizens. If it means fewer TV commercials or Web ads, so much the better.

What's ultimately doubtful is that many elected officials, who are now overly nourished by the current system, will heed a call to reform it. They've been in denial for years, as it's very convenient. With disapproval rates in record numbers, perhaps they'll listen, or go out with the bathwater.



Henderson is managing director of ExtremeLabs Inc., a local computer analysis firm.
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