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Monday, June 24, 2013

Washington D.C., a Corporate Subsidiary

Stack of money
When the Senate rejected closing loopholes in background checks for gun purchases earlier this year, they definitely went against the will of the people. After all, a CBS News/New York Times poll found that 92% of voters supported the expansion. Yet the Senate, in a not-even-close 54-46 vote, rejected the bill, preferring instead the soft-on-crime status quo. With public support for the bill so nearly universal, why would the Senate side with criminals and reject what is a very common sense measure?

The answer to that is simple. The National Rifle Association owns a lot of senators. And let's not pretend -- as the NRA themselves do -- that the gun lobby organization is nonpartisan. The NRA owns the GOP. Of the fifty-three Democratic senators serving at the time, forty-nine received no funding from the NRA. Only seven Republicans could say the same. And you have to assume that some of those seven aren't funded because they're shoe-ins. Why waste money on a candidate who's in no danger of losing? Just throw up a national ad statewide and call it a day. The senate went soft on crime because the Republican Party did. And the Republican Party made sure criminals and terrorists could still get their weapons through the gun show loophole because the NRA demanded it.

And so we now have a status quo embraced by Senate Republicans, but rejected by 92% of Americans. Clearly, something is broken here. But there's a fix and it's steadily gaining ground.


Gallup: Half of Americans say they would personally vote for a law that establishes government funding of federal campaigns, while 44% would vote against it.

The poll was conducted June 15-16, just days before the New York State Senate narrowly defeated a comprehensive campaign reform bill for that state that would have included public financing of campaigns. Most key subgroups of Americans express fairly tepid support for this type of reform proposal. But Democrats, Easterners, and Midwesterners offer somewhat higher support; roughly six in 10 among these groups say they would vote for it. Among their counterparts, support drops below half. The only groups expressing majority opposition are those living in the South and Republicans.
Even more popular would be limits on how much a campaign can raise and spend, with 79% saying they'd personally vote for such limits. But that sort of limit doesn't really solve the problem, does it? It still puts government up for sale, but in a first come, first served basis. But the more effective means is gaining ground with Americans.

Over the years, Gallup has consistently found Americans dissatisfied with the way campaigns are financed, but not especially eager for Congress to make addressing it a high priority. Similarly, while Americans have supported a whole host of campaign reform proposals involving enhanced disclosure and caps on what candidates can raise and spend, they have shown more reluctance toward footing the bill through federal financing. That was clearly the case in 2007, when 57% called public financing "unacceptable." There may be less objection today, with fewer than half, 44%, now saying they would vote "no" if given the chance to vote on implementing a public financing system, and public confidence in Congress historically low. Nevertheless, it remains to be seen how hard Americans will press Congress to enact such a major reform.
Part of the problem is that you're asking the government to spend money and Americans don't like that. But half of us see that this is a case of spending money to save money. The NRA example aside, congress hands out money to donors on a regular basis. This transfer of wealth comes in the forms of tax incentives, unnecessary military purchases, corporate subsidies, etc. One prime example is the prison/industrial complex, which profits from private prisons and lobbies for ever-increasing mandatory minimums and against ending the War on Drugs, in order to keep those private prisons filled and profitable. None of this corporate welfare is free and the cost to taxpayers is much greater than publicly funded campaigns would be -- especially when combined with limits on spending.

None of this was pointed out by Gallup, whose question was straightforward. But half of America knows it. We watch Washington shovel money down ratholes, then blame us for deficits. If you listen to them, it's our Social Security that's dragging us down in debt, it's our Medicare, not the hundreds of billions spent on corporate welfare. You'd think, among Republicans especially, that returning tax dollars to taxpayers would be the most popular thing ever. But their rhetoric does not match their actions. If we keep returning tax dollars to taxpayers in the form of entitlements and services, how will we ever be able to afford handing out money to donors and tax cuts for Wall Street? Want your tax money spent on you? Rob a bank and go to prison. Otherwise, getting your tax dollars to benefit you is a "government handout."

Of course, the big problem with the moving poll numbers on the issue is staring us all in the face. Congress doesn't care how popular or unpopular things are. If they did, we'd have expanded background checks right now. They don't care if you think they're lousy, so long as they have enough money to run ads convincing you that their opponent would be even worse. It's not what you'll vote for, it's what you'll vote against.

So the first step in getting publicly-funded elections is the hardest -- changing our motivation in the voting booth. To begin voting for things again, to stop being so reactionary. That's the only place opinion really matters and we should vote our convictions, not our fears. The first step in defeating corporate-funded elections is in ignoring corporate-funded smear campaigns from shadowy super PACs.


[photo by AMagill]

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