By Jack E. Lohman
I must admit that I haven’t figured out the “other side” of the campaign reform issue.
Yeah, I know. Incumbent politicians will oppose reform because it levels the playing field for challengers, and they don’t like level playing fields. They enjoy getting the lion’s share of contributions from the special interests looking for favors, and they’ll fight hard to retain the status quo. So be it.
But why do conservative pundits oppose eliminating the corruption? Must they have it to win? Isn’t there a better way? Why does anybody prefer a moneyed political system that transfers taxpayer assets to the fat cats that fund the elections, and always at a major loss to taxpayers?
Conservatives rail against excess government spending and taxes, yet they support the very pay-to-play system that fuels them. Are they totally detached from the meaning of money? Money works, or it wouldn’t be given.
The “clean money” system is optional and those politicians wanting to opt out can; and they can take as much money from private interests as they do today. But that seems not good enough. They don’t want competition from publicly funded candidates running on “clean” money, so they invent every excuse possible to justify their support of the current corrupt system. And many conservatives buy into their arguments.
Here are the facts they love to hate:
- They call it “welfare for politicians” even when there could be no better form of welfare for politicians than the current system, where over 90% of incumbents are re-elected. If clean elections really did give incumbents an advantage, as they claim, politicians would have passed it years ago. Bet on it.
- And they call it “government controlled,” when in fact only the funds are provided by the taxpayers and the individual candidates control their own campaigns. They have a limited budget and can only spend it on the campaign.
- Clean candidates qualify for the grants by demonstrating significant support from their district by collecting a predetermined number of signatures. Thus only the voters determine who can run. Traditional candidates qualify the same as before, by giving away the store or promising to if elected.
- If a special interest like WMC or WEAC were to launch against a candidate, he or she would receive matching funds to counter the negative campaigning. Thus there is no incentive to break the bank against an opponent, and issue ads will thus decrease.
- Opponents claim that “it spends taxpayer money on politicians,” but what we have now does the same. But it is much worse because for every dollar special interests give in campaign funds, the state legislature gives away $100 in tax breaks, subsidies, no-bid contracts, and other taxpayer assets.
I’d prefer $5 in taxpayer money any day! It’d be a bargain at 100 times the price.
In Arizona and Maine, 70% of their legislators — Republicans and Democrats alike — have been elected under their “clean money” systems. At first their politicians didn’t like it and wouldn’t legislate it, but in both cases the voters forced it though via the initiative process.
Now the politicians love it, and it’s working beautifully. They did the right thing and ran clean and got re-elected. How about that? The cost in both states is less than $5 per taxpayer, and in Wisconsin it would save $1300 in taxpayer-funded favors. That’s a bargain that even conservatives can learn to love.
So, “values” voters should ask two basic questions:
- If politicians are to be beholden to the public good and to reduce taxes, do I really want them taking money from private interests who expect exactly the opposite?
- Would I accept this conflict of interest in my own business with one of my employees, or would I fire him?
Think about it.