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Peter D. Rosenstein Headshot

End the Obscene Amounts of Money in Campaigns

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In the past month I have received hundreds of requests in each of my email accounts to donate money to candidates across the nation running for every possible office from city council to Congress. They were all trying to maximize their fundraising totals before their end of the year filings were due. The requests came to my personal and business email where they were hoping I had a PAC. These requests included the daily emails from people who think their well-known name on the email will improve the chance of my opening it and giving money to an individual candidate or to the party committee they support. As an 'out' Democrat I get countless requests from the DNC, DCCC, and DSC and of course the multiple requests from the Obama campaign to which in the spirit of full disclosure I have already given. I have even been surprised to receive some requests from Republicans and assume I was a donor to some organization from which they bought a list.

Then there are the requests that still come by snail mail and I am sure the U.S. Postal Service is grateful for those. Heaven forbid you give a nickel those will never end because you will receive another request before a thank you for the first donation arrives, if it ever does. The worst are the fundraising phone calls from campaigns. I have taken to politely interrupting the person and saying thanks for the call but please take me off your call list as I never give to anyone over the phone. Some keep talking after that without taking the hint and I have been accused of being very rude when I hang up on them.

Now the reality of this barrage of calls, snail mail and email is that it works or my assumption is if it didn't it would stop. But I can't believe I am the only one who thinks these requests are annoying to the nth degree. Like many, I do understand the current system and give generously to political candidates because I realize how expensive campaigns are.

But perhaps the time has come to change some of the rules and maybe even support a constitutional amendment if this Supreme Court keeps insisting that the flow of money to campaigns should be uncontrolled.

It is my belief that once someone is in office they should have to run on their record. Laws could be passed and regulations promulgated that would stop outside of district fundraising for incumbents. Since they have a clear advantage in any race it may be necessary to allow challengers to raise funds outside of their district or state to balance out that advantage. Those advantages often include perks like free mailing privileges for newsletters and in some cases, as with the District of Columbia City Council, the ability to raise $40,000 annually for slush funds, otherwise called constituent service funds, with very little control on how those funds are spent building the brand of the incumbent.

By limiting incumbents to raising money in their own districts and limiting challengers to specific matching amounts maybe we would finally get to where people in a particular district actually make their own decisions on who will represent them without undue outside pressure and influence. Candidates will actually have to make their own case to voters without outside groups and individuals making it for them. Why should or would a resident of the District of Columbia donate to an incumbent assembly candidate in California? It is nearly impossible for that outsider to know how the person is working with and relating to their constituents, how they do their jobs, etc. Let the people who first elected them decide whether to support them again.

Money in politics has gotten totally out of hand. Most Americans couldn't even comprehend how much money is being donated and spent in their districts and states from the outside. If they knew many would be shocked. The obscenity of the money spent by national campaign committees on Congressional races came to light again with the announcement by Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) that he is retiring. The DSC then said they had already spent and now clearly wasted $1.2 million dollars supporting him from the money they have been raising from people across the nation with their incessant emails. Nelson himself raised and still has over $3 million in his reelection account for an election he won't be running in. The first thing that should happen is that Nelson should reimburse the DSC for the money he took while dithering over whether or not to run and then return to donors the $3 million in his account.

Considering that campaign finance laws will have to be changed by incumbents and with the current make-up of the Supreme Court being what it is, putting an end to outside of district contributions won't be easy to achieve and it may be just a pipe dream of mine. But this could be something that the Occupy groups want to take on. Someone could start a Facebook petition to see if millions of Americans agree with the premise that things need to change and really want the obscenity of unlimited money in campaigns to end. Maybe they will do it for the good of the nation or maybe just self-preservation and the chance to clear out their mailboxes from all the spam email and letters candidates and their committees send.

I know in many ways this is tilting at windmills to think that the pressure on candidates and political parties to continue to raise obscene amounts of money won't continue unabated. But if there is to be a real non-violent revolution in this country, and we are to make some real changes in who controls the political system, the only way to do that will be to take some of the money out of the decision-making process.

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