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What campaigns need is a blind trust

Commentator Robert Reich

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

Scott Jagow: This week, the Supreme Court struck down a key restriction on campaign ad spending. This has to do with TV ads that appear right before an election.

Some people are worried the court has opened the floodgates to a barrage of last-minute issue ads. But commentator Robert Reich says they're missing the real issue here.


Robert Reich: Until the 1960s, presidential candidates were usually chosen in conventions. Then, state primaries became the deciding force.

But now, even the primaries are declining in importance, and the real nominating process is happening elsewhere and earlier — in quarterly reports filed with the Federal Election Commission showing how much money each candidate has raised during the year before the convention.

The quarterly totals tell the big contributors — lobbyists, corporate packs, and partners of large financial firms — where the smart money is going. And they follow with more money — no one wants to be left out.

It's a self-fulfilling prophecy, a little like investing in commodity futures: Hog bellies, soybeans and presidential candidates. By placing their bets early and accurately, these investors secure a seat at the winner's table. This means special access and influence, or at least the appearance of such, which is almost as useful.

This presidential election is already turning out to be the most expensive in history. And although the campaigns trumpet how many small donors they've rounded up, the leading candidates in both parties are relying mostly on big donors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

So what can we do? The best idea I've heard comes from Bruce Ackerman of Yale Law School. Essentially, he wants to require that all contributions be put into blind trusts for each candidate. So candidates can use the money, but cannot know who contributed what.

Get it? This way, the fat cats can support whomever they want, and their first amendment free-speech rights are protected. But no one gets a seat at the winner's table, because the winners won't know who they're beholden to.

Jagow: Robert Reich teaches public policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He was labor secretary under President Clinton.

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