Inkwell: Authors and Artists
Michael C. Berch (mcb) Tue 28 Sep 04 11:33
> 1. A core principle of modern democracy, "one-person, one-vote" is > violated if we allow unlimited contributions to candidates. I'm sorry, but that's a naked assertion that you are going to have to prove, and that's pretty much impossible given the numerous conterexamples of very wealthy candidates who ran for office on their own self-funded campaigns and failed miserably. It looks like you are taking a basically true proposition -- that campaign donations which result in media buys influence elections -- and stretching it to assert that somehow those contributions modify the right of the electorate to cast their vote in the Constitutionally-prescribed manner. It's rhetorically dishonest and factually untrue. Rich people still only vote once, and your jibe about "being rich should not entitle you to an extra vote" is meaningless hyperbole. People are not automatons. No amount of campaign money will get a candidate elected if he/she does not have a message that strikes a responsive chord in the electorate; the numerous failed campaigns of rich but out-of-touch candidates shows this. You seem to be confused between your roles as an analyst of the current situation and as an activist for change in campaign funding. There's nothing wrong with the latter -- we all work toward our own political goals -- but it looks like that has influenced your analysis in the direction of sensational and emotional rhetorical appeals in lieu of facts.
Nancy Watzman (nancywatzman) Tue 28 Sep 04 12:41
Hi, Weighing in here from the middle of the country (Denver, that is). A few comments on Michael's last post: 1. It is true that a number of millionaires have run for office and lost. It is also true that candidates who spend the most don't always win their races. But guess what, these cases are the exception rather than the rule. In the 2002 elections, House candidates who outspent their opponents won 94% of the time. Even in open seat races, where there was no incombent advantage, the top spender won 79% of the time. In fact, in two-thirds of House races, winning candidates outspent losing candidates by a margin of 10-to-1 or more. (All these facts are courtesy of the Center for Responsive Politics, at www.crp.org). 2. Voters are limited to the choices before them. Alas, campaign money limits that field of choice. Remember the 2000 campaign, when then-Gov. Bush blew away his opponents in the primary by out-fundraising them, many months before a voter ever had a chance to cast a ballot? This is what we mean when we argue that money matters more than votes under the current system. 3. I will make no reply to the heated accusation of confusion of roles v. activism. I believe the facts we are producing speak for themselves.
Michael C. Berch (mcb) Tue 28 Sep 04 14:05
With respect, that's a lot of handwaving and no factual support. Taking the latter first, you seem to completely ignore and wave away the issue of analysis vs. activism. If you hope to be taken seriously, you need to take a position on that and not just ignore the issue. As to the former, you have said nothing which is remotely related to "being rich should not entitle you to an extra vote". Presumably you do not mean this literally, since I have not recently heard of elections in which there are accusations of large numbers of people voting twice (especially rich people). So, it's hyperbole and rhetoric, and that needs to be supported by some sort of analytical means, not simply a post-hoc argument that candidates who spent more money did better at the polls, therefore the rich are buying extra votes. The facts do not by any means speak for themselves, and there are any number of hypotheses and multiple confounding variables.
Uncle Jax (jax) Tue 28 Sep 04 15:24
I think that millionaires who spend *their own money* tend to do poorly. Bruce Benson running for guv here in Colo comes to mind. Currently Pet Coors of beer fame is doing poorly in his race for Senate, another guy who was persuaded by the party (Repub) that money = brains + popularity.
Micah Sifry (micahlsifry) Tue 28 Sep 04 15:35
Obviously rich people aren't literally voting more than once. If it makes you feel better, I'll rephrase that as "rich people shouldn't be allowed to buy extra helpings of democracy." But their money, and in general the need for large sums of money to run viable campaigns for office, subtly shapes and skews the electoral and legislative processes. Any idea where you might find a million dollars to finance a competitive bid for the House, originally thought of by the Founders as "the people's House"? Think of how hard it is for your local neighborhood group to raise money for its activities. Then imagine trying to do this for yourself. After youve tapped your family, relatives and friends, whom else will you turn to? Since there is no public financing available for federal candidates, right now the only source for the kind of cash you will need are wealthy economic interests: the oil companies, the banks, the insurance companies, the securities firms, the utilities, the airline industry, the pharmaceutical companies, real estate interests, and so on. Here's some data to chew on: Just about one quarter of one percent of the total U.S. population, that is, just 639,604 of a population of some 288 million, made a contribution of $200 or more to a federal candidate or party in the 2002 elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Yet this tiny group provides 80% of the money contributed by individuals to federal campaigns. And it is not representative of the nation as a whole. One out of five large ($200+) political donors makes $500,000 a year, and another three out of five make over $100,000, according to a 1998 survey of big givers done by a group of academic experts supported by the Joyce Foundation. Fewer than one out of ten Americans makes over $100,000. This "donor class" is also disproportionately white, older, male and conservative. Because money is so important in most high-level elections, there is a kind of wealth primary that occurs before anyone gets to cast a real vote. Candidates who raise a lot of cash early are considered viable. Those who dont, arent, and often the media simply write those candidates out of the picture. As a result, the narrow class of people who give substantial sums of money to candidates for office gets to subtly shape the field of people running. Not only that, their interests are bound to count more than the interests of average voters. You may say, "but at the end of the day the voters still decide, and no amount of money can force them to vote for someone if they don't like their message." True, but I would argue that candidates' dependence on big money means that by the time voters get to have their say, the donor class has already winnowed the field down to mostly candidates responsive to their concerns first. We can all think of counter-examples of individual millionaires who fail to buy their way into office (Al Checchi, Steve Forbes, Ross Perot). Often, voters are repelled by high-spenders who have little more than their wallets talking for them. But citing those cases emphasizes the trees over the forest. How many examples of under-funded challenges by average working people gaining a seat in Congress can you give me?
Uncle Jax (jax) Tue 28 Sep 04 16:36
I'll let you know after 11/02. I'm running for Congress in Colorado.
Nancy Watzman (nancywatzman) Tue 28 Sep 04 18:03
We are starting to repeat ourselves here, but I feel I must: exceptions do not a rule make. Nobody has been able to counter the fact that candidates who spend win far more often than not, and that is because -- it's a fact. Yes, there are millionaires who spend their own money and lose. Yes, there are some folks who run for office without much money and win. But *not very often*. Surely everybody is familiar with the old adage, "Exceptions make bad law"?
Uncle Jax (jax) Tue 28 Sep 04 19:37
>Yes, there are millionaires who spend their own money and lose. Yes, > there are some folks who run for office without much money and win. But > *not very often*. It seems to me you are missing the point. Yes, people who spend millions usually win. *Except* people who spend *their own millions*. It seems to me, anecdotally, that people who spend *their own millions* usually lose. There's an old saying among pols that if you are spending mostly your own money you're just fooling yourself. I.e., only those to whom large amounts of other people's money is handed over really have a support base. That's the test of your support base: will they pay the ride? The only recent spend-his-own candidate I recall being successful for any significant public office is Hizzoner M. Bloomberg of NYC. My personal belief is that, as our system ages, it will become more as you say: "spending their own" will become the norm. As it did in Rome by Diocletian's time (300 C.E.).
Michael E. Marotta (mercury) Tue 28 Sep 04 21:08
The proposal on the table is to require candidates to get a large number of $5 contributions in order to qualify for federal funding of their campaigns. That, to me, limits choice. I called it disenfranchisement. In the old USSR, everyone voted, but they had no choice. That is disenfranchisement. The Democrats and Republicans have arranged things pretty much for themselves. The one outstanding exception is the Libertarian Party which has managed to be in all 50 states often, and most of them always. No other minor party has achieved this. That success did not come from lots of miniscule toss-ins, but from larger gifts of support, from business owners and from people who ideologically support the personal enterprise system that allows those business owners to afford a $200 contribution. As noted, it might take a million dollars to win a Congressional race, but you do not start there. To cite another exception, I often voted for our senator, Debbie Stabenow, even though our politics are 180 degrees apart. She was my county commissioner in our old neighborhood, and state rep, and so on up the ladder, and as often as I posted BBS messages lambasting and lampooning her, I had to admit that she knew the job of representative and carried it out. When she ran for Congress, I wrote a letter to the editor of the paper in my rural county on her behalf. Realize that I had been in the previous race. It was not an idle gesture. Sen. Stabenow has her own bankroll of powerful "public" interests, of course. (My guess would be the teachers unions and other public employees unions for starters.) She built that one day at a time, dedicating her life to being an elected representative. "Outspending" her would really mean pouring in effectively as much money as she has done over the last 25 years or so. She earned her position of power and she re-earns that trust every day. Of course, she is a liberal Democrat. Her college degrees are in social work and criminal justice, pretty appropriate for someone who wants to put everyone in some kind of "nursing home" or "jail" for "their own good." I still vote for her because she does her job. To get into that position, she had to work for it. What I fear is that the proposals for instant democracy are utopian plans to allow "anyone" to run for any office, without having to WORK for it, at "government" expense. That is another kind of disenfranchisement. Why should I be taxed to pay for the campaign of someone whose views I disagree with? Let them get their own money. And let them get as much as they can.
Michael C. Berch (mcb) Wed 29 Sep 04 00:00
> Obviously rich people aren't literally voting more than once. If it > makes you feel better, I'll rephrase that as "rich people shouldn't > be allowed to buy extra helpings of democracy." Oy vey. So having retreated from the obvious hyperbole about rich people voting twice, you simply replace it with more figurative and loaded language, which itself is muddled and inexplicable. What the heck is an "extra helping of democracy"? My main critique of your position is that you have taken a fact that is completely obvious (money influences elections, duh) and extrapolated from that a completely jaundiced and malign view of private campaign funding which requires that the reader buy into the assumption that voters are automatons that vote proportional to campaign spending. Though you cannot justify your original rhetoric about money violating the "one person, one vote" principle, it appears that you believe it. But to move on: Your ideas about the so-called "wealth primary" are much more interesting, but I think the problem is that you lump together all campaign funding sources (above your suggested $5, presumably) into a "donor class"... and then proceed to assume that the interests of that donor class are congruent. Memo: they're not. (If they were, and represented the interests that you appear to think they all represent, conservative Republicans would have held every public office in the United States since about WWII.) Being able to raise funds *is* a good measure of the viability of a candidate. It shows the ability to work with diverse elements of the community and get their support and funding -- whether that's rich individuals, labor-affilated PACs, or any other permissible donor. If someone is running a serious campaign, and is unable to raise a base of funds to get through the "wealth primary", it raises the question of whether their candidacy has sufficiently wide appeal to go forward, and whether that person will have sufficient "juice" -- the power and influence needed to manage and mediate among complex economic interests as a public office holder in a massively pluralistic public/private system.
Seahorses of the Liver (mnemonic) Wed 29 Sep 04 06:09
I hope mercury actually reads Micah and Nancy's book -- a lot of the questions he raises here are explored at length there. In the mean time, let me ask a question that has less to do directly with how elections operate. One of the supposed benefits of NAFTA was that if products were available more cheaply in Mexico or Canada we'd be able to buy them in the United States. This prerogative may not matter much for some products, but lots of Americans have learned that drugs can be had less expensively if they're purchased in Canada -- for America's older citizens, many of whom live on fixed incomes, this has been a boon. Yet Congress has taken steps to make it harder to for Americans to buy their drugs in Canada (where presumably they're of just as good a quality as they are in the United States). Could you say something about how this process has played out, Micah and Nancy? (P.S. I'm maybe in need of Canadian drugs myself today -- am out sick with a terrible cold, but will try to continue being active in this topic.)
Micah Sifry (micahlsifry) Wed 29 Sep 04 06:40
Jax: I'd like to put this thread to bed, but here's my last response about self-financing millionaire candidates. It's true that many of them lose: here's the record for 2002 http://www.opensecrets.org/bigpicture/millionaires.asp?cycle=2002. It's also true that many of them win (think of Herb Kohl, Jon Corzine, Lamar Alexander). On balance, candidates who completely self-finance AND who lack other standing/experience for office tend not to win. But that in no way contradicts our basic point: to run a viable campaign for office today you need either to be rich, famous already, or know lots of rich people to finance your campaign. The people who offer you financing--the donor class--are not representative of all Americans. The process is skewed toward their interests. Yes, Congress is not uniformly packed with conservative Republicans. But it is remarkably tilted toward business interests. An issue as popular as raising the minimum wage (regularly backed by super-majorities of 75% and higher) doesn't get raised, or, on the rare occasion when it does, it comes tied to billions of subsidies to big business.
Micah Sifry (micahlsifry) Wed 29 Sep 04 06:57
Mercury: Obviously there is more to political success than money, and your fairminded portrait of Debbie Stabenow's rise reminds us of that. But money buys you viability. If you can't raise large sums, no matter how well loved you are in your local community, how skilled you are as a local representative, you are going to have a very tough time getting to high office. And, by the way, with many races for state legislative offices now topping the $1 million level, it's hardly still the case that you can rise in state politics without encountering this reality. As for the "utopian" notion of freeing candidates from their dependence on wealthy private interests, let me suggest that it is hardly "instant democracy" where "anyone" can run and get their hands of huge pools of public funds. In Maine and Arizona, experience with Clean Money/Clean Elections in 2000 and 2002 showed: *a healthy increase in the number of candidates running, but no explosion of freeloaders or bogus candidates *many more contested races, a plus for anyone who believes that competition helps produce more accountability *a more diverse pool of candidates running *more races where the gap between challenger and incumbent, in both money and vote terms, was closer *higher voter participation, both in terms of people making small contributions and in turnout You obviously are allergic to seeing your tax dollars given to candidates you disagree with, but surely you don't object to your tax dollars being spent to maintain the voter rolls of parties whose ideology you disagree with? Or your tax dollars being spent to defend the right of people you disagree with to speak? Last time I will say this: the Clean Money/Clean Elections system is completely voluntary. If you don't want to participate in it, you don't have to. Instead of restricting anyone's speech, it's expanding speech by making it possible for more people to run, and it's giving voters more choices on Election Day. And it's giving the public some things it clearly wants: candidates not beholden to wealthy special interests, limits on the sky-rocketing costs of campaigns, more choices of who to vote for. And it's freeing up candidates' time, so they aren't spending half or even three-quarters of their day dialing for dollars and wooing the wealthy. That's why it's popular in Maine and Arizona and that's why the CMCE approach is steadily spreading.
Micah Sifry (micahlsifry) Wed 29 Sep 04 07:30
Thanks for that question about Big Pharma. We've spent a lot of our time discussing the campaign side of money in politics, and to tell you the truth the main focus of our book is what comes out the other end--policies skewed to the interests of big donors. Since 1989, pharmaceutical manufacturers and related health products companies have been the source of $107.6 million to federal candidates and parties. And more than half was injected into Washingtons veins in just two critical election cycles: 1999-2000 and 2001-2002. In addition, the industryled by its trade group the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA)pours hundreds of millions into lobbying, employing at least 675 lobbyists. That is more than one for every member of Congress. And it spends tens of millions more on broadcast advertising, much of it through front groups called Citizens for Better Medicare and the United Seniors Association. Why the huge investment in Washington by Big Pharma in recent years? The industry could see the writing on the wall. The companies monopoly patents on lucrative medications have been running out (despite numerous valuable extensions granted by Congress), and generic drug makers are slowly eating into their markets. Worse yet, years of overcharging American consumers for name-brand drugs have been generating a political backlash. At Bristol-Myers Squibb, one of the biggest drug companies, top executives were urged to give money to George W. Bushs 2000 campaign. High-level employees were pressured to give the maximum (which was then $1,000 in their own name and $1,000 from their spouse) and warned if they didnt that the companys CEO would be informed, the New York Times revealed. At some companies, officials circulated a videotape of Vice President Al Gore railing against the high price of prescription drugs, the paper reported. The resulting outflow of money--$26.7 million in 2000 and $29.4 million in 2002, tilted even more heavily than usual toward Republicans1--was crucial to cementing one-party control of Congress. One drug lobbyist later crowed in delight, Having both houses of Congress Republican-controlled was great. Like in Monopoly, when you get to add hotels. And what valuable hotels they are! The Medicare prescription drug legislation enacted last year will deliver an estimated $139 billion in fresh windfall profits to drug companies over the next eight years. [Read more here: <http://www.bu.edu/dbin/sph/departments/health_services/documents/health_reform /Medicare_Rx_bill_windfallprofit.pdf> The legislation expressly prohibits Medicare from negotiating lower prices with drug companies (which the Veterans Administration does on behalf of millions of ex-military servicemen and women to great savings). And the bill does nothing to make it easier for Americans to import cheaper prescription drugs from overseas. Laughably, it insisted that no drug imports even be allowed from Canada, supposedly because of the health dangers to Americans who might buy untested medications from our neighbor to the north. The correlation between pharmaceutical company campaign contributions and votes was crystal clear. In the House of Representatives, for example, the 220 members who voted for the bill received, on average, $27,616 from pharmaceuticals between 1999 and 2003. The 215 members who voted against the bill received well less than half that at $11,308. Senators who sided with the industry raised $52,049 from it, on average, vs just $30,320 for Senators who voted against the bill.
Nancy Watzman (nancywatzman) Wed 29 Sep 04 08:09
Micah has contributed great stuff on the correlation of campaign money from pharmaceutical interests with votes in Congress. This is a pattern we unfortunately see all the time. Our book contains many examples of campaign money correlating with votes, and consumers being the losers. Here are two more examples: UNSAFE FOOD. Believe it or not, the USDA does not have the authority to shut down meat processing plants when they violate sanitary standards for bacterial contamination. Two times in recent years, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) has attempted to give the USDA explicit authority to shut down dirty meat plants. Both times, the Senate rejected his amendments, the first time, in 2000, on a vote of 48 to 49, the second, in 2001, on a vote of 50 to 45. In both cases, senators who voted against Harkins amendment received substantial campaign contributions from the food and meat processing industries, while those who supported giving USDA authority received far less. The first time, senators who voted against giving the USDA authority had received an average of $70,600 from the meat and food processing industry, while those who voted for it had received an average of $34,000; the second time, senators voting with the industry received an average of $87,200, while those voting for the stronger safety rules received an average of $43,100. TOXICS. Since 1995 Congress has refused to reauthorize taxes on the oil and chemical industries that helped fund toxic cleanups under Superfund. From a high of $3.6 billion in 1995, the Superfund Trust Fund budget has dwindled to nearly nothing. In that time, polluting corporations have saved paying more than $10 billion in Superfund-related taxes, what amounts to a $4 million-a-day tax break. Why doesnt Congress do something to rescue Superfund? In March 2003, Senators Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) tried. They co-sponsored an amendment that would have reinstated the Superfund Tax and force polluters to pay for toxic cleanup. It failed, 56 to 43. The senators who voted to reinstate the tax received, on average, $138,300 in campaign contributions from oil and chemical companies over the previous six years, while the senators who said no received $37,200.
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Wed 29 Sep 04 09:20
#37: where does Howard Dean fit in there?
Micah Sifry (micahlsifry) Wed 29 Sep 04 09:41
Dean--Another exception, though perhaps a very important one. Unlike every other major presidential candidate, Dean was not primarily dependent on big check writers (the maximum being $2000). If you look at this chart of donor demographics <http://www.opensecrets.org/presidential/donordems.asp> you see that he raised 61% of his money in donations of $200 or less. It would be great to see more "people-financed" candidacies, that is, where candidates were solely dependent on small donors. The unique amount of attention given to the presidential election may make this possible in time for 2008. But more of such candidacies for Congress and state offices aren't likely, because they get far less free media attention and thus any candidate putting herself forward as committed, say, to taking no more than $100 or $200 per donor will find herself written off by the media and probably invisible to the voters.
Seahorses of the Liver (mnemonic) Wed 29 Sep 04 14:47
Micah, Nancy, in your book you suggest that gun control legislation is a dead issue, and that money is behind that -- can you tell us how you reached that conclusion?
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 29 Sep 04 15:17
(FYI if you're reading this discussion, want to comment or ask a question, but are not a member of the WELL, you can still chime in. Just send your comment/question in an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we'll post it here.)
Michael C. Berch (mcb) Wed 29 Sep 04 16:04
I'd like to get back to two points raised in <35> that seem to have been glossed over. First, in the concept of the "donor class" you seem to lumping all large donors together in terms of their ideology and values, and it's pretty obvious that is not even remotely true. All they have in common is that they give a lot of money to political campaigns. There are rich donor liberals, conservatives, libertarians, environmentalists, labor organizations, PACs of all stripes, etc. You call them "business" interests (which is a curious term, since all of us, with the exception perhaps of those working in the public sector, are involved in business activities in one role or another), but not all are associated with business, and even among those that are, the interests of small business (entreprenurial or otherwise), big privately-held business, big publicly-traded business, and organized labor, are not merely non-congruent but are often actively opposed. Secondly, I think you have not considered that the so-called "wealth primary" may actually provide a valuable function in weeding out candidates who will not be up to the challenge of working with diverse factions of the public/private economic system as an officeholder. You assert that "to run a viable campaign for office today you need either to be rich, famous already, or know lots of rich people to finance your campaign". But you have excluded the very important fourth possibility, which is that you are not any of the above, but that people with campaign money -- of whatever ideological persuasion -- will *seek you out* because you have a message that is appealing to a broad audience that includes them. This all seems to resolve to a very simplistic "money = bad" argument that I would hope that you would be able to rise above.
Micah Sifry (micahlsifry) Wed 29 Sep 04 17:00
Michael--Of the $11 billion that has been raised by federal candidates and parties since 1989 (the year that the Center for Responsive Politics began tracking, coding and analyzing all the individual, PAC and soft money contributions by industry and interest group), only about $500 million has come from ogranized labor, and a little bit over $500 million from explicitly ideological or single-issue groups. Almost all of the rest, nearly $10 billion, came from business interests. Environmental groups gave $13 million. These are the facts. It is silly to suggest that "all of us" are involved in business activities, as if the 3.4 million people who scrape out a living as cashiers are somehow as involved in business activities as the top executives of the companies who employ them. There were only 23 contributions of $200 or more from that huge group of Americans in 2003-04, totalling $13,700, we found as we did the research for our book. I never said that the whole donor class had uniform views or characteristics; just that it is grossly unrepresentative of the diversity of America as a whole and that it is disproportionately made up of very wealthy, white, older men who tend to have more conservative views that the rest of the population on a host of issues. And of course, business interests often come into conflict with each other. But they are quite united on cutting corporate taxes, eviscerating government regulation and looking the other way while the social safety net is shredded. Your notion that the "wealth primary" is useful in weeding out people not up to dealing with our diverse economy is based on the same misconception of who is giving the bulk of the money. As for your final point, about the possibility that a salient number of "people with campaign money" will seek out a potential candidate because they have a popular message, and then support them, all I can say is that is what is happening--wealthy special interests are happy to support candidates, even recruit or groom new ones, but only as long as they are comfortable with the issues they raise. For most (not all) large campaign donors, a contribution is a business transaction. It is buying access and influence. For junior executives, it is buying favor with their boss, who bundles their checks to a candidate. With all due respect, I think you're being rather naive about how the system works.
Jack E. Lohman (jlohman4cfr) Wed 29 Sep 04 17:32
Hi, I'm new to the forum so please excuse the clumsiness in commenting on two items. >>> Why should I be taxed to pay for the campaign of someone whose views I disagree with? We already have public funding of campaigns; we just pay through the back door in the hidden taxes that result from our moneyed political system. And we pay hundreds of times more than if we just paid up front (as they do in AZ and ME at a cost of $5 per month per taxpayer). In Wisconsin the added taxes we pay as a result of our moneyed political system is about $4 billion, or over $1100 per taxpayer. I think $5 is a bargain. And yes, these hidden taxes are the result of giveaways by politicians you disagree with. They got their money from the special interests and then gave taxpayer assets in return. So you are in effect also funding their campaign (Dont believe it? Follow the money!) >>> the reader buy into the assumption that voters are automatons that vote proportional to campaign spending. Im afraid many voters do just that. They frequently vote on the basis of name recognition and familiarity, and money unfairly buys both. And they dont need to buy everybodys vote this way, just the swing votes in the middle. I dont think my wealth or anybody elses should be allowed to distort the elections and democracy, and money does exactly that. It also destroys ones right to equal protection under the 14th Amendment of the constitution.
Jack E. Lohman (jlohman4cfr) Wed 29 Sep 04 17:36
Jack E. Lohman (jlohman4cfr) Thu 30 Sep 04 06:04
> Secondly, I think you have not considered that the > so-called "wealth primary" may actually provide a valuable > function in weeding out candidates who will not be up to the > challenge of working with diverse factions of the public/private > economic system as an officeholder. Many elections are won in the primary; if you don't have cash behind you, forget about progressing to the general election (no matter how better qualified you are). Our elections should be driven by the quality of the candidate, not by their financial contacts or willingness to cave to the special interests who put them in office. Our current system virtually demands that candidates accept private money and bend to the wishes of their funders, or be wealthy themselves (in which case they can regulate industries they have an investment in). If you owned a business and your purchasing agent was taking money from vendors on the side, you'd likely fire him. In the business world we call it bribery and payola. In the political world we reelect these characters; they call it "freedom of speech."
Nancy Watzman (nancywatzman) Thu 30 Sep 04 08:48
A few questions ago, Seahorses of the Liver asked: "Micah, Nancy, in your book you suggest that gun control legislation is a dead issue, and that money is behind that -- can you tell us how you reached that conclusion?" I answered Seahorses of the Liver a little while ago, but of course no one knows that I did, because cyberspace ate my response. (I guess this is the new excuse kids must be giving teachers all over America, huh?) Anyway, it's a good question, and it's particularly pertinent given that the House voted just yesterday to repeal the District of Columbia's gun control law, considered among the strongest in the country, and that Congress let the federal assault weapon ban lapse just a few weeks ago. Here is the deal. Public opinion polls show that people support stronger gun safety laws. According to the University of Chicago's non-partisan National Opinion Research Center, nearly 79 percent of the public believes that a police permit should be required for purchasing guns. Large majorities also favor restricting individual gun purchases to no more than one a month and requiring safety training for gun purchasers. Three-fourths support mandatory registration for handguns. Surely popular opinion is due to the endless death toll: The U.S. has the dubious honor of having the highest rate of homicide and suicide by gun among developed countries, and guns are the leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 24. In 2001 alone, nearly 30,000 people died from gun wounds. Yet none of these overwhelmingly popular gun control proposals are law, primarily because Congress and the administration regularly capitulate to the tough lobby of the NRA and other gun rights groups. Together these groups have contributed $17 million since 1989 to federal political campaigns, 85% to Republicans. In contrast, gun control groups have contributed just $1.6 million over the same time period, 94% to Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Over the past 25 years, the gun lobby has shot down numerous attempts to regulate guns. The NRA has beaten off proposals to require chemical tags in explosives, which would make them easier to trace in preventing terrorism; it has successfully opposed the ban of cop-killer bullets designed to pierce body armour. The gun group has prevented proposals to require gun locks on guns, and put limits on how many guns can be purchased per month. The list goes on and on. To appreciate the firepower of the gun lobby, flash back to 1999. In April, twelve students and a teacher died at Columbine High School, in suburban Colorado, after they were shot by students Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris. All four guns they used were purchased by an 18-year-old friend at Denver-area gun shows from private sellers who are not required to run background checks on buyers the way that gun shops must under the 1993 federal Brady Law. I wish a law requiring background checks had been in effect at the time, the friend, Robyn Anderson, later testified before the Colorado legislature. I dont know if Eric and Dylan would have been able to get guns from another source, but I would not have helped them. In the aftermath of the tragedy, Congress considered legislation to require background checks for gun show purchases. Not once, not twice, but three times, the Senate voted against this commonsense measure. The 44 senators who said "no" to strong background checks over the course of a week in May 1999 were the beneficiaries, on average, of nearly 29 times more campaign cash from gun rights groups than the 40 senators who said "yes" to background checks on all three votes$23,340 versus $815. (These amounts include independent expenditures and communications costs made on behalf of members, in addition to direct campaign contributions. The NRA is notorious for using independent expenditures. The lawallows organizations to spend unlimited amounts of money on advertisements and other electioneering materials supporting or opposing a candidate, so long as they do not coordinate these activities with the candidate.) The Senate finally approved a bill requiring a three-day waiting period for gun purchases, but only because then-Vice President Al Gore broke a tie. Their colleagues in the House disagreed. The 212 House members who voted the NRA's way on two separate roll call votes were the beneficiaries of 31 times more campaign cash from gun rights groups than the 189 members who voted in favor of background checks-$11,195 v. $355. The measure never became law, because the House and Senate couldnt agree on a final version. You can go to a gun show today and buy a gun from a private seller without going through a background check.
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