THE BLOG

Campaign-Finance System Is Broken

02/16/2015 09:37 am ET | Updated Apr 15, 2015

With the resignation and pending guilty plea of former Pennsylvania state Treasurer Rob McCord on charges of extortion, the public must understand the problem caused by our current campaign-finance system.

For politicians, fund-raising is everything. I've run in numerous competitive elections at the state and federal level, and those races required that I raise a great deal of money. Instead of spending time with voters, I sat in a room for eight hours each day, calling friends, ex-friends, relatives, and distant acquaintances. If someone didn't call me back, I called again - over and over and over. If you don't raise money, you cannot win. Why do we impose this test on candidates for public office?

The pressure of fund-raising can cause good people to lose their perspective, corrupting our system of government. We're all human, and the natural inclination is to like those who help you more than those who tell you to kiss off or don't answer your calls.

The result is that each day meetings in the Capitol occur because people have contributed to campaigns. Many meetings don't happen because people did not contribute. I have seen votes cast and appointments made to reward contributors. I've also seen legislators do the right thing for the right reason, but the public doesn't believe it because the noble act happens to coincide with a campaign donation the legislator received.

In a perfect world, candidates would spend time with the people they hope to represent, rather than calling donors who don't even live in their district. Legislation would rise and fall on its merits, not on the basis of who did or did not contribute money. Legislators would schedule meetings and take positions based on the public interest, not to reward a contributor or harm someone who gave money to an opposing candidate.

To get there, we must end the odious process of political fund-raising and enact a system of public financing of campaigns, a proposal I introduced last year. It would cost the taxpayers some money, but we would save money in the long run in subsidies, or tax breaks, or other legislative favors not done to reward political benefactors.

Most importantly, public financing of elections would enable the public to trust the true motivations of lawmakers. At the very least, while we work toward a political system cleansed of private money, we can enact reasonable steps in the right direction, such as strong disclosure laws and limits on campaign contributions.

The bottom line is, we must finally end a bad system that brings out the worst in all of us.