PodcastAUDIO: How to end the buying of politicians

BERKELEY
January 22, 2010 12:02am
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•  Californians may have a chance to follow the lead of other states

•  ‘The Supreme Court decision creates a real threat to all members of Congress’


Cynics may say that California and the nation have the best lawmakers money can buy.

But there may be a way around the flood of special interest money flowing to politicians, despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling Thursday permitting corporations and unions to flood the political troughs with unlimited money, says Daniel Newman, executive director of MAPLight.org.

MAPLight is a Berkeley nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that tracks money given to lawmakers and how they vote on various issues.

“There’s an approach that’s used in several states like Connecticut, Arizona and Maine where candidates who want to run for office collect large numbers of small donations and they don’t have to be bound by large donations from special interests,” says Mr. Newman.

There is also a national movement, he says.

“There’s a bill called the ‘Fair Elections Now Act’ that’s now in Congress that would put in this system for Congress so that members of Congress could run only on small contributions and on funds they get from the U.S. Treasury,” Mr. Newman says.

The only Central Valley congressman listed as among the 100 cosponsors of the legislation (H.R. 1826) is Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton.

(Download a copy of the bill by clicking on the fourth link below.)

“Here in California in June, the California Fair Elections Now Act is going to be on the ballot,” Mr. Newman says. “If Californians vote for that act … it will start to take steps toward solving this money and politics problem in California by having a pilot program for Secretary of State.”

In its 5-4 decision announced Thursday, the Supreme Court’s right-wing bloc tossed a century-old law that restricted corporations in using their money to sway elections. The majority opinion said corporations, just like human citizens, have a First Amendment right and the government may not stop them from spending with abandon to try to determine who gets elected to Congress or the presidency.

(Download a copy of the ruling by clicking on the third link below.)

“Today's Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case is a disaster for the American people and a dark day for the Supreme Court,” says Fred Wertheimer, president of the liberal group Democracy 21. “The decision will unleash unprecedented amounts of corporate ‘influence-seeking’ money on our elections and create unprecedented opportunities for corporate "influence-buying" corruption.”

But all is not lost for the average American, says Mr. Newman.

“The Supreme Court decision creates a real threat to all members of Congress,” he says. “They don’t especially like spending hours and hours a day on the phone fund raising. This is only going to make it worse. They don’t want to be in a fund raising arms race.”

(Daniel Newman talks about the ruling and a remedy in today’s CVBT Audio Interview. Please left-click on the link below to listen now or right-click to download the MP3 file for later listening.)

The ruling may lead to a flood of political ads on television stations, which must under federal law take all commercials for federal candidates. With the expected flood of special interest money from corporations and unions, candidates for the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate are expected to have more than enough money to buy as many commercials as they want.

And for the TV stations, those commercials must be sold at the lowest price for the time period. Forced to surrender their finite inventory to the low-priced commercials, broadcasters may not have enough time left for regular advertisers that would likely pay a higher rate.

“We’re not licking our chops,” says a Central Valley television station general manager who did wish to be identified.

Drilldown


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