Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Campaign Reform – Real or a Steal

Campaign reform Washington, D.C. style is a joke. There is no difference between either party when it comes to reforming a system designed to protect the strong and reward the rich. Both have given token support to reform while working in earnest to defeat it. Yet it could be the most important initiative Congress and the president could finally address.

I believe it must start long before the elections. Under our constitution everyone is equal, or at least assured equal opportunity. Why are they not equal in politics? More than half of the Americans of voting age are not even registered to vote. Yet voting should not be a bureaucratic privilege, a reward for those willing to go through the nonsense to prove they are able to vote by registering. Why not give everyone the right to vote when they turn 18 years old period?

This could work if we also corrected a few flaws in the voting system. For instance many people don’t register for two reasons. First they are not drawn to the two political parties yet they are penalized for being an independent in many states. Second they resent that voter registration lists are used for jury duty pools, and are sold to the political parties and subject to aggressive political direct marketing throughout the year.

As for the first concern, let everyone be an independent on the rolls, and let them declare for a party ballot when they go in to vote in the primary, whichever party they choose to support. In this way candidates would not be inclined to give a different pitch in the primary than in the general election just to appease the party activists.

If everyone were a legal voter the jury pool would be vastly expanded reducing the times one might get called. This would address part of the second concern. If the finance reforms I propose later are adopted it would not matter if the parties had the voter lists for much of the frenzy of direct solicitation now is for money to pay for advertising. Of course some meaningful legal reforms might eliminate much of the unnecessary litigation that already clogs up our system and forces a need for all those jurors.

Voting is a right and a responsibility. Our democratic system claims to be the world model for democratic government of the people and by the people, yet half the people do not even participate. Isn’t it about time we finally give that right to all the citizens?

Political commercials should be banned period. They are the most costly element of campaigns, the largest waste of money. They are intrusive and often stretch the truth. It is impossible to tell whether candidates, political parties or special interest groups aligned with either candidate are behind this extravaganza.

The government owns the airways so the government can ban political ads from television and radio. As a condition for licensing and renewals of the TV and radio stations, require them to set aside a very limited amount of time for messages from the candidates. Any other coverage must come from news coverage, not paid advertising, and that means the candidates better say something meaningful to get coverage.

Campaign budgets for paid advertising dwarf all other costs, and the cost of raising money to pay for ads is often the second most expensive cost. Eliminate all paid political ads and you save over two-thirds of the costs of most campaigns. Hundreds of millions of dollars could be saved in an election cycle. There is the added benefit of clearing the TV screen of the political blitz. No one believes them anyway, so why allow them?

Voter participation is yet another valid and neglected concern. Only half the people are registered to vote, but often times only about half of those registered even bother to vote. Thus, American democracy may well be based on the consensus of less than one fourth of all eligible voters, hardly a viable democracy model for the world.

How do we get them to vote? First, we make primary election day a paid statewide holiday in each state the day of the vote. No one would have an excuse for not being able to vote. The general election day in November would be a national holiday, an American holiday to celebrate our freedom and democracy, as in the Constitution and Bill of Rights, something we oddly don’t celebrate already. We celebrate wars, birthdays, holidays and revolutionaries declaring independence, but don’t honor the very foundation of our democracy left us by our founding fathers in these timeless documents.

We can straighten out the mess, we can clean up the airways and we can have participatory democracy if we have courage to demand accountability from our leaders and throw them out when they fail to deliver. That is what democracy is supposed to be all about. Ask your Senators and Congressmen to support these changes and see how they respond. Write, call, email and challenge them to deliver. Remember your rights and remember your responsibilities.
By Jim Putnam

About the author:

He has been active in 32 campaigns encompassing local, state, governors, congress, senate and presidential races. He worked for the executive and legislative branches at the state and federal level and even drafted opinions for Supreme Court justices in the judiciary.

Serving in such capacities as chief of staff, communications director, and assistant state treasurer he has experienced government at all levels (mayors, governors & presidents) and all branches. Yet he also played many roles in campaigns including managing US senate and house races and media in presidential campaigns.

Having worked for prominent Republicans, Democrats and Independents he also served as the Deputy Arrangements Chairman for the 1972 Republican National Convention in the most dominant presidential victory in our nation’s history.

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