hearts and minds

January 2, 2008

Pay for Elections – Low Cost and Up-Front, or High Cost and Under-the-Table?

Sid. D. Complex was skinning and butchering the deer carcass that had frozen while hanging in his shed, when I stopped by for a visit, and that perennial sheepshead champ, Jess B. Simple, was being careful not to needle him for his procrastination.

“So,” I opened, deftly avoiding controversy, “who d’ya wanna see win the elections this year?”

“Don’t matter what you, me, or Jess want – we got no say in it, anyhow,” said Sid. “Every politician, and every functionary in the two political parties that take turns in the driver’s seat and dole out the subsidies, the tax loopholes, the pork, and the no-bid contracts, is dialing for dollars, overtime. They’ll take my money if I give it to ’em, but what they’re really after is the big bucks, and there’s plenty of that out there for them to scoop up with just a wink and a nod, or a lick and a promise, you bet.”

“You got that right,” affirmed Jess. “’Course, all they have to give one of us nobodies for our measly ten or 20 bucks is a casual thanks, if that. To get those big payoffs, from those hard-nosed corporations and Daddy Warbucks types, they have to toe the line and deliver, down the road, or they’ll get squeezed, cut off, and left out. Those gentlemen with deep pockets have reams of lobbyists and bean counters watching to see that their investments pay a handsome return, and to see that what they paid for, stays bought. All without a trace of quid pro quo, of course. Nothin’ makes an elected official madder than even a suggestion that corruption and bribery is involved when politicians or the Party seek or accept big money from silk and gold brocade vested interests. But the fact is, that there is no better rate of return available on corporate and extremely well-heeled investments than the rate of return that is realized on money invested in election campaigns and political parties. And you better believe that those handsome returns are paid for by you and by me with our tax dollars.”

“I don’t understand why those mega-corporations that are the top donors for both political parties give money to BOTH parties, and to candidates running against each other,” wondered Sid. “Don’t their left hand know what their right hand is doing? They always give more to the Party they really favor than to the other. But how stupid can they be? If I was calling the shots, I’d just give one party the difference between what they give the two, and keep the rest, ain’a?”

“That’s why we ain’t rich, and you’re out here butchering in the cold, Sid,” I hazarded. “Those big money boys are into controlling the process, not just betting on the winner. They’re hedging their bets. But more importantly, they are keeping them both parties in harness for the long haul. When you got rules that effectively allow only two political parties to contend, all the big boys have to do is control BOTH parties, and that’s exactly what they do. Why can’t we stop this sale of access to government and its favors? Isn’t democracy supposed to be of, by, and for THE PEOPLE, not by, and for the corporations and the super-rich?”

Jess spoke up. “There are two Supreme Court decisions that make that American dream less possible. One is a weird clerical interpretation of an alleged Supreme Court consensus well over a century ago (at the outset of the so-called Gilded Age) that asserts that the 14th Amendment somehow equates corporations with “persons”, and that therefore corporations have all the Constitutional rights that a living, breathing, mortal human being has, including the right to free speech.” (The 14th Amendment actually was intended to ensure that the federally guaranteed Constitutional rights of every human being – including newly freed slaves and their descendants and you and me – could not be legally violated by the states, as had been perfectly legal up until then.)

“The other is a just as weird decision over a quarter century ago that basically equated money with speech, in terms of a ‘person’s’ right to use it to influence public policy and government actions. Those two decisions, combined, have allowed corporations and super-rich individuals to dominate the political process, the elections, and the government in the USA.” (Jess knows history about as well as he knows sheepshead.)

“As long as these strange interpretations continue to stand unchallenged, most reforms to get the government back into the hands of the people will not be allowed by the courts, or will be too full of loopholes and simply won’t work,” continued Jess B. Simple. “There is perhaps only one approach that will meet the test, and work effectively to restore control and responsiveness of government to the people, and save taxpayers money, to boot. It’s called Public Financing of Elections.”

“Oh, right,” said Sid. “On the radio programs I listen to (and you guys ought to) that’s called ‘welfare for politicians’, and ‘socialized elections’. Our taxes are already too high for the services that are provided. Why the devil should I pay even more taxes to support these shyster politicians and fund their propaganda?”

“Because,” said Jess, slow and deliberate, “ we are already paying for it, but we’re paying way too much. The subsidies, special tax breaks, pork, and extravagant contracts that just happen to find their way into bills and regulations, and that just happen to favor the big campaign contributors, cost taxpayers roughly a thousand times as much as it would cost to directly finance the elections. We are all, already paying indirectly for this corrupt “campaign finance” charade right now, but we are paying billions of dollars, rather than the millions we would be paying if we paid for it directly through Public Financing.

“Vested interests give to campaigns and political parties to get control and favors. If they just wanted to “contribute” to good government, they could do that directly, by funding government programs or general revenues (and thus reduce our tax burden) rather than indirectly, by funding political parties and candidates (who then cut their taxes, but not ours). Do you think they want to help us pay for the cost of government? Get real. They want control. And they expect us to shoulder the burden.

“You’re gonna pay for this propaganda and electioneering one way or another. Paying for it indirectly, through the consequences of corporate lobbyists writing the bills, tax codes, and regulations that affect them (as we are all paying now) costs us way more than paying for it directly. And if we paid directly, through Public Financing, the politicians would have to satisfy US – not the kingpin dealers where they now go to get their fix. Capisci?”

Campaign finance reform is coming to the floor of the Wisconsin state legislature in a special session this January, that should involve public hearings and actual floor votes. Learn more, and help bring about this essential reform, by visiting the web sites of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, and Wisconsin Clean Elections Coalition.

Read this brief analysis, and this one. Really makes it clear and simple.

Contact your Wisconsin state legislators now, urging their complete support for Public Financing of all Elections (SB182/AB355)and the Clean Elections bill, by calling the Legislative Hot Line at 1-800-362-9472, M-F between 8:15AM and 4:45PM. This issue is finally being addressed in a special session of the Wisconsin Legislature right now, and public hearings will be convened this February. Don’t put it off. Would you rather directly pay 5 bucks a year to fund elections in Wisconsin, or would you rather continue to indirectly pay the 1300 bucks you’re paying now? Either way, those are real dollars that campaign financing is actually costing real, live people.

Public Financing of elections is established in some form in Maine, Arizona, New Mexico, North Carolina, New Jersey, Vermont, and Connecticut. The time is right to do it now in Wisconsin.

The Fair Elections Now Act (S. 1285) sponsored by Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) would bring full public financing of elections to the U.S. Congress. For more background, check out Public Campaign and Common Cause. Clean publicly financed federal elections would save us even more tax money now being squandered on corporate welfare and very special private tax loopholes and no-bid contracts to cronies, etc. It would save us MUCH more money than it would cost us. And Congress would have to satisfy US for a change, not satisfy their big money donors.

P.S. – Don’t try skinning and butchering that deer frozen – like Sid did. Best to thaw it first if you don’t get ‘er done before it freezes.

P.P.S. For a laugh and motivation, see this new video “shorty” from the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign on YouTube about the difficulties that Justa Bill has in getting a hearing before the politicians while the rats, fat cats, and porkers hold the politicians in thrall

P.P.S. (Note added in 2010.) Jess declared in this 2008 article that, “There are two Supreme Court decisions that make that American dream less possible”, and he briefly outlined those two cases. But even worse news is that now there is a third Supreme Court decision (5 to 4) that, as of February 2010, ices the cake for the corporations and the super-rich, and hands our government over to them, unless and until we remedy the problem with a solid Constitutional Amendment.


  1. Nicely done column welcoming us all into 2008!! I wish I had an entertaining and clear writer in my local paper in Illinois, but no luck. The real benefit of this article is that it also gives some concrete action to perform at the same time!


    Comment by Mike — January 5, 2008 @ 4:17 pm | Reply

  2. Excellent piece Clyde. It doesn’t matter what your issue, follow the money and you’ll find a politician at the other end with his hand out. These jokers are (supposedly) working for the best interests of the voters, but are taking money from the special interests who want just the opposite!

    Sounds to me like we need a 100% turnover in our government.

    Comment by MoneyedPoliticians — January 9, 2008 @ 12:39 pm | Reply

  3. I like the Sid. D. Complex and the Jess B. Simple characters to get across your points. I’ve read that 67% of the corporations in Wisconsin pay no taxes. That’s very troubling. I appreciate the review of the history of how corporations got to be “persons” and how giving money was morphed into free speech.

    I’ve copied the legislative contacts and will be contacting them regarding public financing of elections.

    Thank you, Clyde

    Comment by Dorothy B — January 10, 2008 @ 4:07 pm | Reply

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