February 2010

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By Peter Bearse


Corporate lobbyists and campaign finance reformers now have something in common. Both are  responding to a decision of the Supreme Court. The outcome would, in the opinion of one commentator, “loosen the floodgates of corporate money” into political campaigns. The corporate folks view the decision with glee; their opponents, with naked fear. What no one is acknowledging, however, is that the “floodgates” already have been largely opened. Campaign finance reform has failed no matter how it is labeled, whether “McCain-Feingold” or the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act [BCRA].


One might as well say “So what!” to prevailing ceilings on corporate contributions  and the limited constraints placed on lobbyists and lobbying. Corporate money pours into campaigns through wealthy individuals and their families, lobbyists, corporate PACs, corporate-sympathetic or affiliated “527” groups, chambers of commerce, other corporate-based not-for-profit organizations, etc. So, for the most part, a Supreme Court decision that states that corporate “free speech” has been unconstitutionally limited by the BCRA would confirm what is going on rather than represent a major shift. It would appear be a radical change only in light of a long legal history that declared corporate contributions to be illegal even in the face of a reality that increasingly evolved to demonstrate otherwise.


So, the question to be faced is not one of: What do we do now that the “floodgates” have been opened? It is: How do we effect meaningful and effective campaign finance reform given that the BCRA failed long before the Supreme Court decision had been passed down? We can answer this question by taking a step back to notice the great irony of campaign finance reform. It pretended to get big money out of politics via legislation and language that recognized only money as the critical resource of political campaigns.  What about the value of peoples’ time contributed as political volunteers? Is politics with, by and for people or is it only about money?


I worked on the campaign finance reform [CFR] issue as a member of the Campaign Reform Committee of the Campaign for America during the ‘90’s. At the same time, I was working on a book to promote a grassroots, people-based politics, entitled WE THE PEOPLE: A Conservative Populism. By the time the book was published, I had developed an approach to CFR very different from that of the McCain-Feingold bill that became law as the BCRA. This approach was based on a contrary assumption -- that if we want a people’s House rather than the best Congress money can buy, we need to recognize that:


(1) People rather than money are the most critical resource of political campaigns; and that…

(2) The minimum value of peoples’ time, represented by the minimum wage, can be credited as a tax incentive up to the total annual value of the time that people contribute to political campaigns.


 The sticking point of effective CFR has been limits on campaign expenditures. Such ceilings have been declared as unconstitutional under the 1st Amendment, as limits to political “speech.”  But what if such limits apply only to expenditures of money but not to expenditures of time? Then, total expenditures that include the imputed monetary value of volunteers’ time could be unlimited and so more likely to pass Supreme Court review. This is the basis of a new approach to CFR, one that brings American politics back to people and away from the corruption of big money. It also provides an incentive for people to participate in a political process that should be theirs but which has been largely taken over by political pro’s, careerists and media.


Other reformers, including Granny D and Rep. Jim Splaine here in NH, say that the only solution is public financing of campaigns. They are wrong on several counts. The three prime objections to public financing are: (i)  What economists call the “deadweight burden” of the subsidy provided to candidates is too high. A large percentage of those subsidized would run even without public funding; (ii)  Public financing would aggravate rather than reduce the high rate of inflation of the costs of campaigns; and (iii) Many people object to having their tax dollars used to help finance candidates they do not like.


Anyway, It’s high time to bring CFR back, high up on the public agenda as part of a larger strategy to reform Congress. The only NH candidate for Congress to do this is Peter Bearse.


Released by Peter Bearse, Ph.D.., Independent Republican Candidate for Congress, January 21, 2010