Clean elections, unicorns, and other fantasies
I find it at once sad and disturbing that many potential voters are easily persuaded by a headline, bumper sticker, or couplet. With the oceans of information readily available today, responsible citizens should be dismayed that others are voting with no idea what they’re doing. Among the many examples are the misconceptions and misrepresentations of the Maine Clean Elections Act as lessening the influence of money in elections or the likelihood that interest groups or large donors will persuade a legislator to vote in favor of bills that benefit them at the expense of the people as a whole.
In the first place, it is the rare piece of legislation that does not quite purposefully benefit one group at the expense of others. Secondly, it is even more rare that a candidate does not "promise" to give advantages to one group over others and that voters do not cast their ballot for the candidate they perceive will support their values and interests. With so many of today’s voters swimming in “Lake Me,” traditional principles and values have, to an alarming degree, been replaced by envy, hatred, and an attitude of entitlement rationalized by feigned victimhood.
It is equally sad that these voters’ own values have become so corrupted that they can project onto others that they would sell their integrity for $750 in campaign contributions. Such people do exist and some may even try to run for office but I would be more concerned about one of those people running "clean" than one running "traditional" and here’s why:
1. It takes money to successfully campaign for office particularly because many voters don’t pay attention until the final days before voting. Reaching these voters is costly. Limits on individual contributions mean "traditional" candidates must obtain their funds from many individuals by explaining what they believe in, stand for, and stand against. These voters get off their sofa early in the season, attend meetings and ask questions. They personally know the candidates’ views, character, and past performance including the opposition. "Clean" election candidates may well also build their constituency among concerned and informed voters but that is a choice not driven by necessity.
2. Quite properly, people and corporations are permitted to form Political Action Committees and non-profit organizations that, while not contributing to the candidate directly, can spend unlimited funds on supporting a candidate, party, or issue, or on opposing and attacking any of these. So called “clean election” candidates benefit from PAC spending every bit as much as traditional candidates.
3. Some voters may be of the impression that influence is exerted more on one "side" than on the other. Nobody who’s paying attention thinks that however. In Maine, individual contribution limits ensure there is no opportunity for any one donor to be uncommonly influential through direct contributions to a campaign. Nevertheless, there are those who nurture the prejudice that large companies and wealthy individuals exert undue pressure on the Legislators for laws that favor their profitability. One visit, however, to testimony before the Health and Human Services Committee would quickly convince the objective voter otherwise. Easily the largest industry in Maine comprises the hundreds of organizations and thousands of people making their income either predominantly or substantially from providing housing, medical and mental care, counseling, training, transportation, food, and other support to the needy. These organizations exert every bit as much influence over legislators as do any merchants or manufacturers.
4. Despite its title, MCEA does nothing to reduce the influence of money that the campaign contribution limits don’t already do. While it does allow a candidate to obtain public funding and claim some moral high ground for doing so, it fails to do the one thing that would ‘clean up’ elections more than anything else: Eliminating the uninformed and apathetic voter. The only solution to keeping people of low integrity from getting into office and funneling public money to private purposes is to know the individuals before voting for them. That takes effort and yes, money, on the part of every voter. It’s your job and your obligation. If you’re not willing to put in the effort and even write a check for no more than you probably spend on theater tickets or a ball game, then do the rest of us a favor: Deregister and leave the voting to those who know what they’re doing.
5. Finally, think what we’ve become when candidates can sidestep the issues, avoid discussing any facts, and duck responsibility by resorting to unsubstantiated and despicable personal attacks including slanderous accusations of racism, and false claims such as the ‘war on women’, and the suggestion that an opponent would ‘sell’ their vote for $750. What is sad about that is less that such unsuitable candidates and their supporters use the tactic, sometimes with success, and much more that they can at the time, or ever again, find someone willing to listen.