Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Short-circuit the political dollars game

    Politics is a numbers game. Campaign talk revolves around the number of staffers, the number of volunteers, the number of votes needed to win and, maybe most important of all, the number of dollars. It’s a dangerous conversation.
    With the 2014 election season in full swing, the ability of a handful of billionaires to give unimaginable amounts to partisan groups again threatens to change the face of our democracy.
    Their political contributions have gained notoriety for their sheer size. Gifts to individuals, political parties and political action committees routinely top a million dollars. Stratospheric totals, $15 million, $50 million, $150 million, are simply chump change to multi-billionaire players including the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson.
    Campaigns can succeed despite some funding disparity. There is a very real danger, however, that unless candidates are at least within shouting distance of one another in finances, elections will produce only the government that money can buy. Most national elected officials complain that they now have to spend way too much of their time hustling for donations rather than discussing policy with colleagues or meeting the needs of their constituents.
    Every voter in the United States, no matter what the Supreme Court says, considers political donations to be something other than just free speech. The Supreme Court’s money-as-speech ruling has brought more and more cynicism to the political process. Potential candidates become less willing to jump into the fray when even city council races in large cities involve campaign totals north of $500,000.
    Voters are not irrational in believing that they are increasingly powerless in their own political process. The amount of money being spent in campaigns is obscene and threatens to make a mockery of a democracy of ordinary citizens.
    While the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision opened the donation floodgates, Congress could shut them. That seems unlikely. In the meantime, as citizens we can do something to reclaim our own political fates.
    First, we can vote in every election. The larger the turnout, the less influence any individual can have no matter how much money he or she spends.
    Second, we can all contribute. If each Idaho voter had given as little as $5 to a candidate in the recent primary election for governor, the total would have exceeded that actually raised from those able to give a lot more.
    It is time to return the political conversation to voters and issues and away from donors and spending.

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