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Campaign reform begins with informed voters

As I See It

Does America need campaign finance reform?

We must first see what the problem is that needs correcting or reforming to answer the question intelligently.

There is a widely held perception that campaign contributions influence elected officials to favor the issues promoted by the donors. No doubt this is true. Thus, deep pockets can have the law re-arranged more to their liking and thus enjoy a better life as a result of their “investment.” The deeper the pocket, the happier the outcome.

Accordingly, many Americans believe that if we restrict the inflow of campaign contributions we will have better government. But, will we?

Four issues seem pertinent. First, are our elected representatives for sale? Second, how does limiting campaign spending square with freedom of speech? Third, since campaign finance reform tends to favor incumbents, would restrictions unfairly stifle challengers for whom the taxpayers don’t pay for free mailings? Fourth, if the government weren’t so powerful would people pay so much to gain access, and thus, influence?

That’s a mouthful!

From reading the articles promoting campaign finance reform, one could easily envision our elected representatives as kids on a playground, unable to resist the lure of the crack dealer. Shut off the money and the kids will behave. I question the validity of this notion. People either have integrity, or they don’t. We need to rid ourselves of corrupt politicians at the voting booth. Running for office costs money and the money must come from somewhere. If campaign contributions are eliminated, only the wealthy could afford to run for office. Not a pleasant sight.

In truth, campaign expenditures serve a useful purpose. Incumbents tell us only what they want us to know. Challengers publicize criticism toward incumbents in an effort to unseat them. If it were not for this publicity, we would remain in the dark about what our elected representatives have done and are doing. Additionally, lobbyists furnish important information about their clients and their industries that would not otherwise be heard. Though the information is self-serving, it is also useful.

Supporting political candidates financially is a function of free speech. This is a right that we should not trample on. Free speech is one of the most important rights of American citizenship and forfeiting even a smidgen of it would be a mistake.

Once the wall is breached, the battle is soon lost!

A better solution would be for more citizens to get interested in government and make small donations to the candidate of their choice.

Incumbents would benefit more from campaign finance reform than would challengers. Incumbents already get free publicity by virtue of their position. Unseating an incumbent is already a near impossibility. Election statistics show that voters routinely return politicians to office year after year. The inability to raise money to mount a challenge would be great for those who are in office, lousy for those seeking election for the first time.

People seek to influence government officials because our government has become so pervasive and powerful that it can enrich or destroy anyone it chooses. The magnitude of government in America is well beyond the comprehension of most citizens. And its size is increasing every year. This is the real problem in American politics.

From 1787 to 1920, federal expenditures never exceeded 4% of the gross national product (GNP), except in wartime. Today, federal expenditures consume about 30% of GNP, almost $1.8 trillion. Could the answer to our campaign finance problem be to downsize government so that its influence is substantially diminished, and therefore, fewer dollars would flow into campaign treasuries? In addition to restoring America to the road to healthy individual independence and self-sufficiency, just think of all that tax money that would stay in our pockets.

Americans need to have a heart-to-heart talk with themselves and decide what America is and is going to be. Do we cherish the power our long-time incumbent politicians bestow on our locale enough to continue returning them to office year after year? Do we consider the services we receive from the government sufficient to justify their cost and intrusion in our lives? Do we have the courage to step out independently and make our own way in the world without all the safety nets the government alleges that it provides? These are questions that each of us need to decide and vote our convictions accordingly.

As for campaign finance reform, the downside risk to the freedom of speech and further empowering incumbent politicians far out ways the benefits from restricting the supply of cash making its way into political coffers. Integrity does not rely on eliminating temptation.

Thought for the Moment – There is only one group of people who don’t have problems and they’re all dead. Problems are a sign of life. So the more problems you have, the more alive you are. — Clergyman and writer Norman Vincent Peale (1898-1993)

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at cpajones@msbusiness.com.

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