A candidate with a message

A growing number of people are fighting against corrupting campaign finance regulations.

David Steinberg

Buddy Roemer is the GOP presidential candidate nobody has heard of. He hasnâÄôt held a position in government in sixteen years, and the last time he did, he switched from a Democrat to a Republican before being ousted as the Governor of Louisiana. However, another more important reason keeping Buddy RoemerâÄôs name out of the news is his stance on campaign finance.

Every other Republican presidential candidate makes a big show of saying they will eradicate corruption in Washington and significantly decrease the size of the government. Yet the only candidate whose actions back up those words is Buddy Roemer, whose stance on campaign finance is anything but mainstream.

“The only way to fight corruption is to say no. You canâÄôt compromise with it. You canâÄôt wink and nod âĦ IâÄôm willing to lose, free, rather than win, bought and sold,” Roemer said, and he means it. He has vowed to limit the size of each donation to his campaign to $100. The freedom to lead and to stand in the face of big corporate interests is washed away when you cash their checks the day before.

There are many examples of public servants being corrupted by large campaign donations. One is the infamous moment in 1995 when Representative John Boehner, now Speaker of the House, handed out checks from tobacco lobbyists immediately before a vote on tobacco subsidies. ItâÄôs not hard to guess who won that vote.

Even many Republicans questioned this act, and Boehner himself admitted his error before officially making it illegal.

However, is making that behavior illegal even necessary? With all the lobbyist handholding in Washington, maybe the voters deserve to see checks passed out directly on the congressional floor. Some have quipped that each congressperson should be required to wear a NASCAR-like suit so voters can see exactly whose interests they may truly represent.

Avoiding corporate corruption is precisely why the Supreme Court enjoys lifetime appointments, albeit with a long vetting process. They cannot be bought by billions of corporate dollars.

However, in 2010 the Supreme Court only created a greater space for corporate influence when it ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that portions of the 2002 McCain-Feingold Act were in violation of the First Amendment. The ruling allowed corporations to publicly advocate for a certain political campaign, defending this spending as speech and further equating businesses with people. To this, Senator Mitch McConnell said “democracy depends upon free speech, not just for some but for all.” However, all citizens were able to contribute to campaigns with their own money before this case. The verdict only allowed even more influence by rich corporate decision-makers on the outcome of elections.

There are many ideas that differ from the current method of campaign finance and would do wonders to limit corruption. Yale professors Bruce Ackerman and Ian Ayres released an idea in their 2004 book that radically changes that method.

It is essentially a new idea based on public financing of an election, and it gives every voter $50 to donate. Current public financing is very unpopular; only about one in 10 voters check the box to give three dollars to the public campaign finance system on their tax forms. What might make this form of campaign finance unpopular is that this voter has no say in where his or her money goes. AckermanâÄôs and AyresâÄô plan allows the voter to say which candidate they want to donate to. This would be more than enough to finance campaigns, because with 120 million voters, this would total $6 billion, which compares favorably to the $5.3 billion spent nationwide in 2008.

Perhaps more radically, their plan mandates that no candidate knows where his or her funding comes from. This does not eliminate private donations and actually raises the personal contribution limit from $2,400 to a cumulative cap of $100 million, which might seem outrageously biased towards the rich but the candidate will not know who it came from because the money will first be sent through a middle man, the Federal Election Commission.

This plan is not perfect, but it is certainly better than our current situation. Corruption is running rampant in Washington and the amount of money passing hands to buy votes in Congress is only helping the upper class. But how can we expect the politicians themselves to pass legislation limiting the money that they receive?

Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard professor, has written a book detailing some ways in which the Constitution has the answer. Lessig acknowledges the current system is broken. Bypassing action by Congress, he proposes that a minimum of two-thirds of the states call for a Constitutional Convention. There, all the people can come together and fully discuss what needs to be done. And once there is a proposal, three-fourths of the states must approve, creating very bipartisan legislation. This Constitutional path has never been taken, yet Lessig calls it the most democratic way to solve a disagreement.

Lessig also believes that in the meantime the Fair Elections Now Act must be put in place. This might sound familiar to a current presidential candidate. The plan mandates that the only way each candidate can raise funds is personal donations under $100 per person.

Of course, the candidate being referred to is little-known Roemer, the former congressperson, governor and CEO and the only candidate to be all three. He is leading the charge against corruption in government, not by merely talking about it, but by living it.