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Politics and Economy:
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Viewer Campaign Finance Suggestions

Although the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act is now law, and also being challenged in court, the cost of campaigning remains high. The Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) notes that the cost of winning varies widely by district. A tight race for House cost approximately $1.5 million to $2 million in 2000. The average cost was $840,000. Huge spending in New Jersey and New York in 2000 raised the average cost of a Senate seat to $7.3 million.

NOW has discussed campaign finance reform on numerous occasions — including our recent report on the Clean Elections movement. Read some of the suggestion our viewers have sent in for revamping the system below. Then, send us yours.


"The greatest benefit of public financed elections besides freeing up the candidate to spend his or her time discussing the issues and interacting with their constituents instead of having to spend most of their time raising money, is the ability of anyone to feel free to talk to the candidate without the feeling that they will only be listened to if they make a contribution and usually a sizable one. I feel that public funding of elections will encourage more people to get involved in the process of interacting with the candidates and engaging in more discussions of the issues without the issue of money hanging over their heads."

I think publicly financed elections are the answer. Our tax money is being spent on so many ridiculous things as it is, that paying to finance elections hardly seems like a major quibble. And we would be getting so much in return-- politicians would no longer feel the need to do the bidding of their most wealthy campaign contributors. Instead their focus would be shifted to doing the bidding of the voters... exactly as it should be."


"Here's the premise: You can only contribute to those for whom you can vote. Or conversely: Candidates and office holders can only receive contributions from those who can vote for them, that is, from their constituents. To put this in appropriate context, in our representative form of government we can only vote for those who would represent us, that is, we're not allowed to vote for candidates in neighboring districts or states. It's not really any more restrictive, then, to limit political contributions in the same way. In fact, when you stop to think about it, just as voting for candidates beyond one's district violates the "one man one vote" principle, so too, in a sense, does contributing to them. For example, if you make donations to out-of-state senatorial candidates or sitting senators (especially if they're large amounts), you're in effect seeking additional representation."


"On the general subject of campaign finance, I do not think any limitations on forms of campaign financing will effectively stop the flow of corporate money to politicians. This will be curbed only by making illegal the purchase of television or radio time for campaign purposes. We should adopt the system used in the U.K. and other European countries."


"The Free Speech Solution - There are two basic questions everyone asks when consuming a political or public service advertisement: Who's speaking and what are they saying? I trust the public to make their own judgment of the speech based not only on content, but also the voice, face or name of the individual speaking. That's what speech was and is."


"I propose a 28th amendment to the constitution: The first article of amendment shall be understood to apply to all citizens, individually. Corporate entities may not exercise freedom of speech anonymously, but rather only when immediately identifiable with and represented by a corporate officer who is a US citizen. Congress may regulate the required form of citizenship identification."


"A fifty cent tax at the gas pump should go a long way."


"I do not think new legislation is anything more than a band-aid fix for these fundamental problems of size and complexity. It is time to start thinking of new ways to govern ourselves that are more decentralized, where smaller groups of people meet face to face and grapple with the issues necessary to carry on appropriate government. Hanging on to the past, however tempting, will only hurt us in the long run. It is time to realize that more fundamental change must take place and begin the immense task of envisioning and creating it."


comment: 39 YEARS AGO TODAY

It's been 39 years, yet I can still remember that day somewhat vividly. My father was glued to the television set. I was watching with him, as well as wondering what was going on in his mind, and in his heart. I knew he did not want to be interrupted, so I said nothing. My mother was elsewhere in the house. I figured she was crying in her bedroom. I wanted to go find her to see if she was all right, yet I didn't want to pull myself away from the television. My father and I sat and watched in silence.

There was something oddly, if coldly, magnificent about watching the horse-drawn, flag-covered coffin make its way through the streets of Washington D.C. Everyone lining the street was either dumbstruck or crying. I sensed what everyone on the television set was feeling: something felt wrong, awfully wrong. Even though it would be years before I learned about all the loose ends surrounding the President's assassination, I knew that something didn't make sense.

I wondered what was going through Jackie's mind and heart. I wondered why she didn't appear to be crying more. She had lost more than a President; she had lost her husband. And what about the kids? Caroline was only a year older than I was. How did she feel? If I were Caroline, I wouldn't want to be seen in public. I didn't even want to imagine what it would be like to lose a parent. And poor John-John, he was even younger than I was. Would he have any memories of his dad?

As I watched the funeral with fascination, the cameras cut to a variety of Senators and Congressmen. Walter Cronkite would announce, "Senator So-And-So of Connecticut, and there's Senator So-And-So of Illinois." I felt the urgency of the moment. Granted Lyndon Johnson was now President, but I knew it would take more than Johnson to restore whatever had just gone wrong with the country. It would also be up to the honorable Senators and Congressmen to help. And in that moment, I decided to be a Senator when I grew up.

However, as I got older and came to understand the workings of our system, I could see that one of the last places I would choose to serve my country is in Washington D.C. My noble dream would be nothing more than an awful nightmare. I don't believe that there is a place for me, or anyone who thinks like me, in our nation's capital.

Our leaders let us down every day - Republicans and Democrats alike. Most of our leaders have been bought and paid for so many times over that we no longer matter to them. Unfortunately, being of service has come to mean repaying those who financed the campaigns. The bottom line is that our government is no longer of the people, for the people, and by the people.

Where are our representatives in Washington who will stand with backbone and speak from their heart and vote from their conscience? More often than not, our leaders behave like spoiled children. I can only imagine that the reason so few people vote is because the people who are supposed to be our leaders, the ones we're supposed to be choosing, are acting like people we don't even wish ourselves to be! Are these the people who will lead us to become a better and more compassionate society? Are these the people who are supposed to shine light upon our path into the future?

I still dream of making a difference. I still dream of a government like the one George Washington envisioned a government with the ideal role of "perfecting human nature." Yet truth be known, I don't have the necessary temperament to make it through a campaign; it simply does not appeal to me to participate in a system where in order to get into a position of service you have to slander another human being. And that's not to mention that I have made so many "mistakes" in my life that my opponents and the press would have a heyday with me.

However, I still wish for representatives and senators who would, in the words of Vaclav Havel when he addressed Congress in 1989, subordinate their political behavior to the imperative mediated to them by their conscience. I'd vote for the first authentic, genuine human being to come along no matter what party they were in. I'd run to the polls! And so would a whole lot of other people who had never voted before.

Maybe when we demand more of ourselves, we will demand more of our elected officials. When we don't care, when we don't bother to vote, when we don't hold our representatives accountable, we get the government that we have at present. Maybe when we begin to care more, so will our government. As that bumper sticker says, "When the people begin to lead, the leaders will follow."

Sometimes I reflect back to that sad day, November 25, 1963 - I was an innocent five-year-old with a dream of serving in Congress. What a noble endeavor! Yet today, as an adult, the answer is always the same: The government I dream of will not begin in Washington - it will begin with each of us, one person at a time, and in as many ways as there are people. And then maybe, hopefully, there will be another five-year-old today who will grow up to serve in a Congress of the people, for the people, and by the people.

Robert M. Hamburger

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