Monday, February 17, 1997

Week of 02/17/1997

Let’s make a (political) Deal!
The new game show for America
- by David Matthews 2

Welcome back to our game.

Now you all know our contestant and reigning champion, John Q. Public. John here has chose Party #1 from one of three party curtains and ended up with the political addict. Now John, you’ve been playing this game long enough to know that if you choose either Party #1 or Party #2 that you’ll end up with the political addict.. BUT you’ve got tenacity, and we can’t fault you for that.

Now we’re into round #2. Your addict.. OOPS! I mean politician… has one of three choices he can take. There’s term limits behind door #1. There’s campaign finance reform behind door #2. And there’s more congressional pork behind door #3. So which do you think he’ll choose?

OH, I’m sorry, but he picked door #3. Pat, tell John what he just won!

Well David, John Q. Public has won a few more years of business as usual in Washington DC! Included with that package are more federal moneys spent on pork barrel projects, an increase in taxes to cover those projects, and more partisan bickering on issues that are as consequential as a 20/20 special on bat guano. And all of it paid through the nose by John Q. Public. Back to you David…

OK folks, all attempts of satire aside here, we all should have seen it coming. Congress claims they want term limits, so they unveil 11 constitutional amendments, and by some fluke that happens only in politics and professional wrestling, NONE of those amendments pass. We hear talk about our politicians wanting to curb campaign costs and perceived inappropriate - and possibly illegal - contributions from foreign interests, yet all the Republican-controlled Congress seem to do is focus their attention at how the Democrats raise funds.

Anybody else besides me see the old bait-and-switch tactics here? There’s a reason why Congress unveiled 11 different constitutional amendments for term limits - that way ALL the members can go back home and say they at least voted for ONE of them without having to worry about ANY of them actually getting passed. "Gee," they’ll tell us, "we tried, but the other side just wasn’t willing to work with us."

Now the focus will turn to campaign finance reform, which everyone will want and our gratefully elected politicians seem to be all-too-eager to enact now that they’ve kept their jobs. I don’t know about anybody else, but to hear politicians talk about campaign finance reform now is sounding awfully like the alcoholic talking about going sober only after consuming the whole wine cellar.

It’s easy for them to talk about reform now that they aren’t running for re-election. What ever happened to that talk last year when the same measures were up for discussion? Then would have been a better time to get the matter settled - at a time when every politician is hungry for the last buck. But no, it died in committee last year.

Let’s face it folks, we can’t turn to our two tried-and-true political parties to enact real campaign finance reform. One party is crippled by it and the other is so self-deluded they can’t even admit they have the same problem never mind come up with an honest solution. And while some of you might expect me to pull out some reference about third parties, I believe the solution can be found not in the parties, but in the players.

In a Massachusetts senatorial race that got minimal press attention, two politicians - both millionaires - sat down at the start of their campaigns and decided how much both sides would be willing to spend. They set down a financial limit, and when the final vote was cast it turned out both sides actually spent LESS than their maximum amount.

Perhaps that is where we really need to start - not in political parties, but rather by the politicians who will be willing to not only do something about campaign reform after elections, but also in the heat of the campaign season when they’re really hurting for cash. Republicans claim to be people of ethics - here’s the opportunity to put their money where their mouth is. Democrats will shortly claim to be nothing like the party of old - here’s the perfect opportunity for them to prove it.

Let’s start with having politicians sign an agreement that says they won’t spend over X amount of money in their next campaign, and if they do they’ll voluntarily drop out of the race. Let’s hold each member of Congress responsible - one by one - for setting such limits, and vowing to elect only those members who agree to do so - irregardless of which party they represent.

Only when we have members of Congress who are not only willing to enact campaign reform but are already PRACTICING what they preach will REAL campaign finance reform be enacted - and by then it won’t be really needed.

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