Take the politics out of the money

Marketplace Staff Oct 11, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: It’s easy to be cynical about politics. But a poll out today from Pew and the Associated Press says voters’ interest this fall is the highest it’s been in more than a decade. Americans are talking politics at home and around the office water cooler. They’re going to campaign events. They’re talking about it in church. And they’re opening up their pocketbooks. Best guesses are something near two billion dollars will be plowed into the mid-term elections. But commentator and consumer advocate Jamie Court says the trick is to change how that money’s spent.

JAMIE COURT: OK, so maybe you can’t take the money out of politics. But you can take the politics out of the money.

You see, lawmakers spend an inordinate amount of time hustling campaign cash to win reelection.

The cash power of interest groups can make or break a public official’s election.

Even the politicians who don’t want a handout from a special interest group are worried about getting on their bad side come election year.

What if American taxpayers paid for the political campaigns of candidates who rejected special-interest dough?

It would only take about $6 from every American to make that happen.

To make it even cheaper, the FCC could require broadcasters to give some free airtime on the publicly-owned airwaves to candidates. Do you think Washington and America would look a lot different?

Arizona and Maine have had this publicly financed election system for six years and politics there is different.

For one thing, more people are voting. For another, candidates come from all walks of life.

Officials elected with public funds say it’s a relief not to owe favors to special interests.

More than 8 in 10 Arizonans give the system a thumbs up, and two of every three candidates opt to reject private contributions.

There’s a powerful financial incentive for that. Candidates who choose to fund-raise give their publicly-funded opponent a gift of matching funds for every dollar they raise.

How do we bring this system to the rest of America? Well, California pioneered a clean-burning car. And California could also be the catalyst for cleaner politics.On November 7th Californians will vote on a proposition to establish a system like Arizona’s.

If Proposition 89 passes, and the sixth-largest economy in the world can get politicians to reject special-interest cash, then don’t you think we could do that as a nation?
RYSSDAL: Jamie Court is the president of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

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