December 17, 2004
A campaign system only an incumbent could love (part two of seven)
By Bill Kraus
Over the course of the last 30 years a campaign system has evolved in this country that is driven by money, is beholden to special interests, and has alienated independents and political moderates of all persuasions. While the 2004 election (estimated cost $1.2 billion) was no kiss for Christmas, I still think the Wisconsin gubernatorial election of 2002 illustrated the depths to which we have descended even more dramatically.
In that election, Jim Doyle was convincingly elected by 19 percent of the eligible voters at a cost of $8.50 per vote.
I have identified seven culprits and events that got us to this pretty pass, and I will enumerate them over the course of the next seven weeks. Stay tuned.
Culprit Number Two: the United States Supreme Court
In the now infamous 1976 case Buckley v. Vallejo, the U.S. Supreme Court added a dictum to the basic decision of the case which said in effect, maybe in fact, that money is not just money. Money is also speech. This meant that money, political money anyway, would from that day forward get all the protections of the well protected 1st Amendment to the constitution.
All attempts at political reform from that day forward have had to somehow disempower money. The only acceptable way to do that has been to insert public money into the campaign funding mix. A candidate who accepts public money, under this ruling, can be subjected to campaign spending limits. It will not surprise you to learn that no millionaire has done this. Nor has anyone who has access to large amounts of money from other places, no matter how tainted.
The route to meaningful spending controls and campaign finance reform has been full of constitutional potholes ever since 1976. All attempts to fill the potholes in since then, despite the very favorable ruling on the McCain-Feingold reforms, are constrained by that 1976 decision. Until and unless the court lets Congress and state Legislatures set the rules for political campaigns and activity, the court will still be culprit number two.
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