Category Archives: Campaign Financing

Breaking the Pattern. (Isn’t it about time?)

Monday, June 25, 2012

It’s gotten to the point that a dysfunctional Congress (the President included) has become our most important problem – more important even than the economy because, unless and until Congress becomes functional, it’s not going to deal effectively with any of the critical economic, fiscal and social issues we’re facing.

We’re all about patterns. Some of them are dictated by work. Others are just the way we do things, the sequences of events and habits that express and define who we are. To no small extent, we are and become what we do.

The problem with patterns is that they’re hard to break, even when it’s blatantly clear that the patterns aren’t helping us and may even be detrimental. It’s just too easy to keep doing things the same ways we always have.

Complaining about Washington, about the “Washington” that is our federal government, is a tradition that reality, as of late, is turning into a bad joke. Our Congress does next to nothing and what it does do, it does poorly. Way too much politics, not enough careful study and collaborative making of creative, effective legislation. Money, specifically the costs of getting elected, has made matters worse, has subverted the whole idea of elected representation, of “one person, one vote.”
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Ben Cardin v. Dan Bongino: “How has Senator Cardin been financing his campaign?”

Thursday, May 3, 2012

I’m just a guy, a citizen with a notebook computer who works stupid hours and whose only real hobby is writing. (It’s easy, because I don’t have to get up from my desk and there’s no glue involved. I don’t like glue.) This is my fourth piece on the race between Maryland’s U.S. Senate incumbent, Democrat Ben Cardin, and his opponent, Republican Dan Bongino. If you’re interested, all three previous articles begin with the same “Ben Cardin v. Dan Bongino” that you see in the title above.

Most of us like to root for the underdog, which probably says something about how we view ourselves, how we want to believe the little guy can come from behind, snatching victory from the jaws of seemingly invincible defeat. Unfortunately, in the politics of our time, it’s really hard for the spunky newcomer, without any real money in his campaign, to beat a well-heeled incumbent.
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Congressional Dorms

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Remember college? How the dorms had a way of making all freshmen equal regardless of what their parents did for a living or how much money they made? The way they forced the intermingling of nerds with the cool guys, the English majors with the engineering and science tools – and eventually, in more recent years, the girls with the boys, the blacks with the whites, the straight with the gay? It was nice, because dorm life helped open our minds, encouraging us to relate to others who were different than we were, to appreciate these differences and not get bent out of shape by them.

Maybe we should take the same approach to growing a better, more civil, more effective Congress.
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Barack Obama: Winning at any price, literally.

“In case you haven’t noticed, one of the candidates is in the process of buying the Presidency.”
Monday, October 6, 2008

Senator Obama’s lead in the polls is no doubt primarily the result of growing concerns about the economy which usually favor the challenger, the party not in office. It’s hard enough for John McCain to distance himself from President Bush and his economic policies, or lack thereof. Even if he could, McCain is still a Republican and this mess seems to have happened on their watch. I say this despite the fact that the Democrats have been in charge of Congress for the past three years, during which they and Senator Obama, in particular, have failed to do anything about the conditions which precipitated the current crisis.

Without question, Senator Obama is even less prepared than Senator McCain to manage an economic recovery. He (Senator Obama) is just a better salesman. More to the point, there’s very little any President can do to fix the economy. Whoever’s elected need only wait a couple of years for the economy to repair itself, and then take credit for it. (Bill Clinton didn’t create the favorable economic conditions that we enjoyed during his two terms in office. He just happened to be in the right place at the right time.)

The economy may be the primary reason for the point spread among likely voters, but campaign financing is also a major factor. In case you haven’t noticed, one of the candidates is in the process of buying the Presidency.

As everyone knows, Senator Obama made a point about favoring campaign reform and committed, early in the primary process, to taking public financing as did Senator McCain – only to change his mind when he realized he could collect far more if he passed on public campaign funding, which he did, unapologetically. To be clear, he allowed expediency to trump his commitment to campaign reform. He put getting elected ahead of what he had previous told us was in our country’s best interest.

It’s a disturbing pattern. All candidates, McCain included, show more than a little flexibility in their drive to get elected, but the changes that Senator Obama has been willing to make are particularly upsetting for what they suggest about his motivation and objectives, about his level of commitment to God and Country. For 20 years he was an active member of Jeremiah Wright’s church, only to dump the good Reverend when he became a liability. Twenty years is a long time. Likewise, he was adamant about the fundamental importance of campaign reform for our democracy until it occurred to him that he might be able to raise enough money to literally buy the election if he took a different course. As of this writing,* McCain has raised only $230 million, including public financing, of which he has spent $194 million so far. Obama, $454 million, of which he has spent $377 million to date – outspending his opponent almost 2:1 to buy campaign television advertising, mailings and door to door materials, and to fund campaign staff, special events and voter registration drives.

No experience. Tons of money. Promises, promises without regard to the feasibility of accomplishing any of it. And, perhaps most important, the moral flexibility to do whatever it takes to get elected. And we wonder why many better qualified men and women of higher integrity don’t participate in our political system.

*Dollar amounts are from an analysis conducted by http://www.OpenSecrets.org using data published by the Federal Election Commission, September 21, 2008…
Banking on Becoming President.


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Popularity Contest: “Barack Obama for Student Council President”

Saturday, April 5, 2008

“If, on the other hand, we thought of the campaign as if we stockholders hiring someone to be our national CEO, Senator Clinton would win hands down.”

Just when I was beginning to enjoy being an adult, this campaign for President has made me feel like I’m back in high school.  It was a place where people were elected to Student Council based almost exclusively on their popularity, with little regard for capability.  There were no real issues, and the Council had no authority, so it didn’t matter.  Running for President of the United States should be different.

Just because we call it a “popular vote” doesn’t necessarily suggest that we don’t care about the ability of the candidate to actually do something.  I say that knowing full well that our current President was elected based entirely upon his popularity, having not the slightest idea what he was doing.  So how’s that worked out for us?

Barack Obama is popular.  Hillary Clinton is not.  If this were high school, he’d be elected.  If, on the other hand, we thought of the campaign as if we stockholders hiring someone to be our national CEO, Senator Clinton would win hands down.

Last month, the Obama campaign raised a whopping $40 million through hundreds of thousands of individual contributions averaging less than $100.  (The Clinton campaign raised $20 million, which is impressive, but chump change by Obama standards.)  Everybody feels very good about this because it suggests that a President elected without the need for special interest money will be free from its influence.  He or she will still have to deal with those special interests to get anything done, but won’t literally owe them anything.  In the world of compromise that is Washington, I’m not sure it makes any difference, but doing away with large contributions, personal or corporate, was the right thing to do.

Unfortunately, the effect of removing large contributions from the process has been to give a substantial advantage to the most popular candidate.  Make no mistake about it.  The fact that Barack Obama can outspend Hillary Clinton 2:1 in the remaining primaries will make a difference in the outcome of those elections.  It’s a difference that has nothing to do with anything more than sheer exposure.  Obama supporters may think they are part of a new age of politics, but they’re buying the election – probably of the wrong candidate – nonetheless.  Electing a President shouldn’t be on a par with letting advertising convince you to use one brand of deodorant over another.

It’s too late for this election, but there are some things we can do over the next four years before we nominate and elect another President to make popularity for popularity’s sake less of a factor.

For one thing, we need a national primary, no more than 30 days prior to the nominating conventions.  Popularity tends to dominate the early stages of any campaign.  It’s natural, like dating.  Superficial attributes are the first thing you notice.  Getting to know someone takes time.  People who voted, and delegates who were elected in the early primaries may have changed their minds by the time the last primaries and conventions are held months later.

Second, do away with caucuses.  Caucuses discourage the participation of voters who prefer, and have every right to a secret ballot, who may not feel comfortable asserting themselves or being exposed to intimidation by more ardent advocates in a public, sometimes rowdy venue, and who simply may not be available during the relatively brief time during which the caucus is held.  I’m sorry to demean the style of many fellow Americans – not that sorry, actually – but caucuses in this day and age are a joke, a poor, not stellar or classic interpretation of democratic process.

And we need to replace all personal or corporate contributions, large or small, direct or through political action committees, with public campaign funding.  Based on some reasonable qualification process, give the serious candidates the money they need to run a campaign sufficient to acquaint the voting public with their programs, experience and personality – but let them allocate those funds as they see fit.

Let’s put the candidates on equal footing in so far as campaign financing is concerned, and leave it to them to win or lose the election based on more substantive issues.  Whatever the source of their money, you don’t want someone buying an election by overwhelming his opponent with media exposure.  As for the miracle of Internet campaign funding, people should be voting with their voices and at the polls, not with their wallets.

We want a popular vote, not a popularity contest.  In politics, it is not true that you get what you pay for.


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