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Column: Campaign Funding Limitations Violate Free Speech

This story was written by Jack Craver, Badger Herald

Hes up by 13 points in Virginia, where a Democratic presidential candidate hasnt won since Barry Goldwater John McCains predecessor in the Senate ran a campaign right-winged enough to nauseate all but five states still vocally committed to denying blacks the right to vote. Of course, in politics, what goes up must come down, and Barack Obama will come down at least a little bit.

The last three weeks of the campaign will be the final test of the American publics appetite for Obama, which the McCain campaign will aggressively attempt to sour with unbearably false negative advertisements. As Bill Kristol, The New York Times resident McCain-hack advised, Obamas ties to figures like Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright will have to find their way into the straight talk express for McCain to have any chance of victory.

And its not because John McCain is a bad guy. In fact, McCain is likely one of the more principled Republicans on Capitol Hill, and his disastrously reactionary campaign based on vague notions of change through continued Bush policies and pee-wee hockey fanaticism is not a fair representation of his three-decade career in elected office.

But running for the highest office in the land, Johnny Mac, like all senior citizens, is going to do whatever necessary to find the most comfortable retirement plan possible. And if he has to pick up some fistfuls of mud and heave them in the manner of a disgruntled kindergartener, so be it.

Hopefully, the people of Wisconsin will see past the libelous slime. But hopefully, they will also understand that the third party groups arent the problem their legal system of funding is. Luckily, the state Government Accountability Board has begun to understand this, although in practically negligible bits and pieces. The GAB ruled Monday that it had the authority to regulate issue ads in the same manner that it regulates ads from candidates requiring that those funding the ads be revealed and they be subject to spending limitations.

Requiring spending limits on third party ads is a tough issue. How can we limit the right of an individual to discuss, say, abortion? But the ads should at least be transparent, and their financial backers should be made public. However, its really not the issue-advocacy groups government should be targeting now, but the campaigns themselves. Under federal law, individuals are allowed to donate up to $2,300 to a candidates general election campaign. They are permitted to give up to $28,500 to a national political party and up to $10,000 to a local or state political party.

To some people, these restrictions represents a violation of free speech. They are right.

There should be no restriction of private campaign contributions. There should be abolition of private campaign contributions. Voters should have no role in the funding of political candidates except through taxes.

Thats right. Your taxes should pay for political campaigning, and in the long run, it will save you money.

So far more than $2 billion has been raised by the presidential, congressional and senatorial elections taking place this November. Not much really; however, its necessary to remember that this amount is merely the investment.

Remember that $18 billion of earmarks in the federal budget that really bothers McCain? Or the $140 billion of pork that lies atop the recent bailout bill, $25 billion of which went to Detroit automakers? That is the return on the investments of thousands of the most influential lobbyists and activists in America, who bundle countless checks from rich Americans and deliver them to the politicians, courtesy of whatever corporation or other special interest funds their lobbying firm.

If funding the campaigns is the realm of the noble American taxpayer, then why not make funding the salaries of elected officials a similarly beautiful demonstration of "free speech"? Pay them as much as theyre worth, the libertarian supporters of electoral capitalism would shout. Why should a congressman receive such a pitifully average salary, the boys of Phillip Morris would demand, when he has so valiantly stood up for the interests of the tobacco farmer by voting purely on principle against raising the cigarette tax? Doesnt the maker of such stupendous virtue deserve a similarly stupendous show of gratitude from all those he has helped?

Absurd, right?

The problem is, the current system effectively provides the same thing. A politicians lifeblood is his campaign, and those who support it might as well be paying his salary.

Thats whats happening right now. Obamas campaign is an unconscionably radical departure from the senators previous commitment to public financing of elections. McCains campaign accepts public financing but nevertheless accepts private contributions as any serious presidential candidate must.

Hopefully, after Obamas profoundly immoral campaign triumphs on Nov. 4 in states like North Carolina and Virginia, the new president will understand that his victory is in fact a product of a campaign finance system that is a stain on even the most cynical concepts of American democracy. And hopefully hell work with my boy Russ Feingold to fix it.

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