Ban fundraisers and turn citizens loose

Marketplace Staff Jan 17, 2007

KAI RYSSDAL: Democratic Senator Barak Obama officially wants to be president. That much we know, because he said yesterday he’s creating a presidential exploratory committee. According to federal campaign rules, that’s what he had to do to be able to raise money for a run at the White House.

Obama is the least politically experienced of the Democratic candidates. But some Washington observers say he’s very adept at raising cash. Which is nice, because these days, whether you’re a plain old lawmaker or a presidential wannabe, you’ve got to be good at it.

Commentator Newt Gingrich has an idea on how to make a messy system better.

NEWT GINGRICH: Have you noticed that the more election laws Congress passes, the more expensive and less democratic elections get?

Consider what it takes to get elected to Congress. Today, political parties aren’t recruiting candidates with bold ideas. They’re recruiting candidates with big bank accounts.

Why? Because middle class candidates are at a huge disadvantage. They have to raise money from individuals in $2,100 increments. But the mega-rich already have the money to spend. There is no excuse for restricting the donation of citizens while a millionaire can spend a hundred million dollars.

What’s more, campaign finance laws actually contribute to corruption in Washington by relegating you, the American citizen, to the sidelines of American politics. Limits in the amount we can give to campaigns means that our congressman has to spend more and more time raising money.

And guess what. They’re not raising it back home. They’re staying in Washington, where the big bucks are.

Washington fundraisers give money to incumbents so they can build campaign war chests that discourage middle-class candidates from running against them. That frees incumbents to spend more time at Washington fundraisers, and then feel beholden to the political action committees that represent corporations, unions and other special interests that supply the money.

Here’s a better idea: Ban fundraising in Washington. Lift the contribution limits on citizens donating to their own congressman or senator. And then require candidates to post all their contributions online within 24 hours, where everyone can see them.

That would open up the process of running for office to middle-class candidates with new ideas that now have to compete with the super-rich. Campaigns would be more democratic, more open, and a lot of lobbyists would be out of work.

RYSSDAL: Newt Gingrich is a former speaker of the House.

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