Monday, May 7, 2007

Campaign Finance Reform, Garrett Style

Representative Scott Garrett has done a lot of things I disagree with, and some things I think are pretty good. Part of following him is following what he co-sponsors on behalf of our District, after all this is what he would like to see as law and Federal programming. Sometimes it's a good co-sponsorship add, such as HR 1157, which will establish centers to study environmental factors with regard to breast cancer. Then, there are the majority of what he sticks our name on. HR 71 is such a bill, which would allow corporations and unions to make direct political donations AND take away the reporting requirements on spending on behalf of a candidate. HR 71's catchy title is the "First Amendment Restoration Act."

First, a primer on campaign finance law. Corporations, labor unions and foreign persons and entities are prohibited from making campaign contributions. In addition, if a political action committee or individual are spending money on brochures, mailers, TV or radio ads or websites on behalf of a candidate, they have to report it to the Federal Election Commission when it goes above a threshold. This lets people like me and you keep track of who is backing which candidates. So, for example, various Right to Life PACs spent almost $15,000 on behalf of Garrett in addition to their cash donations last election cycle.

Maybe it's because he was part of the political establishment in Trenton that Garrett would like for corporations and labor unions to be able to donate to political campaigns. If you look at the way political donations lead to contract awards here in Bergen County and throughout the State, wreaking havoc on various taxes; you would be forgiven if you scratch your head and wonder how a fiscal conservative can seek to enact the bedrock principal of pay-to-play on the House floor.

Let's be real, most of us don't have lobbyists running around on Capitol Hill on our behalf, and this bill would give corporations and unions even more influence over the political process by allowing direct donations. The even bigger issue of this is that reporting requirement. In the particular section of the code Garrett would like to see amended, all donors are referred to as persons, including political action committees. By lifting the ban on corporate donations, Garrett's also eliminating their being required to report what they're spending on behalf of a candidate.

Eisenhower had it right when he said "we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence." He was talking about the military industrial complex, and the idea that those who make their money off of defense spending could spend a million here or a million there on television ads for members of Congress overseeing procurement for the armed forces without any accountability is insane.

We can also look at economic policy, and individuals who make their money by betting against the US economy. They'd now be able to spend whatever they want on candidates who subvert the national economic interest, either intentionally or through incompetence, and the donor makes a killing without anyone knowing where the funds for the attack ads came from. In addition, international corporations with US subsidiaries, seeking to weaken America's domestic competitiveness would have the same opportunity.

You can look at recent history and see this as especially dangerous when accountability for smear ads is already a question. Take the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, who spent $24 million on spreading a lie about John Kerry. Had the FEC not stepped in, we wouldn't know how much they had spent or who gave them the money to spend. The fines they were hit with came well after the damage was done, however the FEC can take this experience and learn from it to prevent future abuses of the system. Garrett apparently wants to take that power of accountability away from the FEC and trash the system.

Many of the current problems, both in trust and practice, within the Federal government and all levels of government in our state are due to the influence of cash above the what the voice of the people can muster. Instead of looking for ways to curtail the "unwarranted influence" of money in politics, this bill opens the floodgates. To be fair, Garrett didn't write this bill. Since it was introduced a few months back Garrett's had time to read it and think about it. After having that time, Garrett signed on to let the lunatics run the asylum.

1 comment:

Democracy Matters at UWM said...

SO what do you think about Clean Elections legislation?