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Banning Soft Money Is Just the Start!

Fair, common-sense proposals to remove the taint of money from politics.

by James Leroy Wilson
March 28, 2001

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Banning Soft Money Is Just the Start!_James Leroy Wilson-Fair, common-sense proposals to remove the taint of money from politics. All elected officials place the interests of big-money contributors to their party ahead of their own convictions and the will of the people. And even if this isn't true, there's the perception that it's true. We must therefore take measures to ensure our democracy isn't undermined by corruption and cynicism.

To start, Congress should ban soft money contributions to political parties so that money won't buy access and influence. Of course, influence doesn't stop there. If there are independent, private organizations and individuals campaigning on a candidate's behalf, that's practically the same thing as buying influence directly, so we should ban ads by the NRA and similar interest groups two months before an election.

Fortunately, the McCain-Feingold bill now being debated in the Senate will do these things. But we should do more. Many newspapers are owned by large national media corporations, and at any given time legislation before Congress could affect their profit margins and operations. So their newspapers' editorial endorsements of candidates should be banned, or at least screened by the government to avoid conflict-of-interest, because the effect of a candidate endorsement is the same as an ad; it's an indirect campaign contribution.

But what about the columnists? We should always be for freedom of the press, but we should also be for fairness. Opinion pieces in newspapers should be reviewed by government screeners for balance. If one side is promoted, then the other should be, too. Letters to the editor should be similarly reviewed, not just for balance but for quality of argument - a strong argument for one side of an issue should be countered by an equally strong argument for the other side. With these moderate, common-sense regulations, we would all know that the newspapers are objective and are in no way trying to influence candidates by taking sides in an election.

And then we should investigate the wealthy, powerful few who fund public-interest groups or foundations, and who subsidize ideologically-biased magazines. We should also investigate the PAC activities of corporations who advertise on popular talk radio shows. Under the guise of "independence," clever broadcasters, journalists, and academics make arguments for a partisan cause, and there's no doubt the politicians are aware of them and their influence.

Still, those slimy special interests will find a way. They will use the Internet, e-mail, and direct mail to arouse the masses and influence candidates. The candidates will be aware of these efforts, and therefore will feel the same sort of debt to those interest groups that soft money now provides. Therefore, any communication of any kind that anyone might receive should be reviewed by the government, to prevent unbalanced and unfair propaganda from reaching the people.

The rule of thumb should be that no one ever has a political opinion on anything, and to judge a politician's motives, you have to follow the money.

Sure, some people think that this would all violate the First Amendment. But the First Amendment, for as long as I can remember, has only protected those who create art with sexual content, mock religion, or advocate the destruction of American institutions. I don't think it was intended to apply to political campaigns.

In any case, fairness and a clean political system are more important than the Constitution, and I think even the Founders would have realized that. Which is why McCain-Feingold bill before the Senate is a good start - it says that the perception of corruption is the worst characteristic of our political system, and sacrificing our freedom is a small price to pay to correct it. My hope is that in the future we will see even more controls and a purer political system.

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Oche Dremon from Chicago writes:
March 28, 2001
Finally! James Leroy Wilson is making some sense! Sincerely, Oche Dremon

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