Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Clean-Money Elections

California voters next week will decide the fate of Prop 89, which is a "clean money" measure, providing for public campaign finance and contribution limits, especially for corporations. There are real reasons to be suspicious of Prop 89, since it was written by the California Nurses Association and may unduly favor that group over other unions and organizations. Unfortunately, the underlying issue is, as usual, getting lost in the fog of the campaign.

The central problem in American politics is the jaw-dropping cost of running an election campaign. A member of Congress needs to raise thousands of dollars per day for two years in anticipation of the next re-election campaign. Ballot measures are multi-million dollar brawls, with more and more money chasing fewer and fewer voters. The costs of a campaign are so enormous that candidates feel that they have no choice but to go after the large checks from the deep pockets of corporations. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that political contributions are a form of protected speech under the First Amendment.

I therefore propose the following measure as a first step towards political sanity. It may require a Constitutional amendment, but I think it's important enough to warrant such a momentous tactic.

The Congress and the States shall have the power to limit the political speech of fictitious persons.
The idea still needs some fleshing out, because freedom of political speech is meaningless if a corporation (such as a television station or a newspaper or a magazine) can be muzzled. Perhaps a more direct approach would be better: "Freedom of the speech and of the press shall not be construed to include the freedom for a corporation or other fictitious legal person to contribute without limits to a campaign for or against a particular candidate or ballot measure." In any case, the basic idea is that the right of the people to have a clean political
process must trump the right of corporations to make contributions to campaigns.

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