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U.S. needs campaign finance reform

As Florida’s 2010 general elections approach, we are once again reminded of a cornerstone of our electoral process: campaign financing. Political campaigning is nothing more than out-raising your competitor. U.S. Senate campaign funds are in the millions and local elections such as county commissioner can be in the hundreds of thousands.

Professor of Economics at New York University Edward Wolff’s 2007 study found that 20 percent of the U.S. population holds 85 percent of the wealth, and 80 percent of people hold just 15 percent of the wealth. These statistics influence campaign financing and resulting political power.

Suppose that those in the top 20th percentile have a disproportionate amount of funds available for political contributions. If campaigns are only possible with an exuberant amount of money, then a lack of funds blocks a large pool of potentially talented politicians. As the minority monopolizes the selection of candidates, they assure that their interests will be addressed indefinitely at the majority’s expense.

The St. Petersburg Times reported that Gov. Charlie Crist’s 2010 senatorial campaign reached a 50-day fundraising record of $4.3 million.

Crist said last week, “I’m very pleased by the fundraising effort, and I’m grateful for it.”

The Times reported that Crist encouraged couples to donate $4,800 each or $9,600 total. The maximum allowable campaign donation is only $2,400, but this can be made once for the primaries and once for the general election. The government may need to address these fundraising loopholes.

In the United Kingdom, candidates for the British parliament spend well under $200,000, and European Parliament candidates spend under $90,000. These democratic institutions are considered legitimate and functional despite the lack of immense campaign funding.

In response to this atmosphere of political inequality, there is proposed legislation in the House of Representatives called the “Fair Elections Now Act.” The bill states, “The House of Representatives finds and declares that the current system of privately financed campaigns for election to the House of Representatives has the capacity, and is often perceived by the public, to undermine democracy in the United States.”

The bill intends to create the “Fair Elections Oversight Board,” which would be composed of five members selected by the president. These five must have no
employment in any political party or campaign and cannot be a lobbyist. The board would then convene to determine how to disperse money from the Fair Elections Fund, which would be made up of contributions and general revenue, among potential candidates. The plan even calls for vouchers with a value of up to $100,000 for television and other media advertisements.

Neither the House nor the Senate has voted on the proposed legislation, and its practical effectiveness is yet to be seen. Its intentions, however, should be applauded.

The bill’s sponsor John Larson of Connecticut and 53 of the 56 co-sponsors are Democrats, so this measure is visibly partisan. Perhaps the Republican Party is more reliant on those whose private donations have been crucial to their recent electoral success.

We may believe that our democracy has reached its goal of political equality with the election of President Barack Obama. Those who have read his book, The Audacity of Hope, discover that his senatorial campaign demanded a lot of time listening to the political desires of the well off in order to obtain their financial support.

He wrote, “Money cannot guarantee a victory, but without money, you are pretty much guaranteed to lose.”

Campaign reform is critical if we are to keep the promise of the principles of democracy. The general public is a group whose hard work is often unrecognized and unrewarded through the brutal realities of capitalism. Incidents such as the situation in Iran depict what happens when frustration with political monopolies boils over. Whatever the strategy for addressing this inequality, it needs to be handled with expedience and a sense of great importance.

Justin Rivera is a junior majoring in history.