Money forces candidates to sell out

The founding principle of American government is the triumph of the common man. Under this structure, the commoner can rise to become president of the United States — almost.
Throughout history, humble upbringings and years of hard work have led to political fruition. But there is one glaring compromise that must be made. Somewhere in this wholesome ascent, millions upon millions of donation dollars must start flowing in. And with these donations come special interests and obligations. With each election year and new broadcast medium, the presidential election becomes more and more a public relations event.
One simple solution: No advertising in the media should be allowed during political campaigns if that advertisement has anything to do with a candidate.
Today, people vote for whomever is portrayed the best in commercials and on the six o’clock news. Nobody seems concerned with the issues. Everybody is more concerned with who did what drug when and who slept with whom where. Pretty soon C.J. is going to be this city’s top political analyst.
Issues like these certainly may frame a candidate’s moral status, but they simply cannot become the basis of voting. Election Day becomes a partisan popularity contest. It’s like sixth grade school council elections; whoever cleverly changed the lyrics to a Young M.C. song triumphed.
But then, without advertising, the question arises, “How will we become educated on the candidates?” This is like the lazy, fat man who asks what he could possibly eat for dinner after he runs out of Swanson frozen salisbury steaks.
Public debates should be all it takes. Televise them to death. C-Span’s got nothing better to run. The candidates should be drilled on the pressing topics and important issues. No public relations people vying for the right camera angle, no big hugs or gratuitous cow milkings. Just the issues.
This is the way it was intended when the system was set up. How would George Washington’s wooden teeth have looked on a 30-second spot? We elect a president to take care of our country, not to host story time at the local library. Use television as it should be used, to spread information and knowledge.
The hundreds of millions of dollars that flow into campaigns for advertising alone create moral conflicts. While this money goes to commercials and campaigns to make the candidate look wholesome and wonderful, the money itself creates special interests and obligations.
Because when it comes time to vote on an issue that concerns a donator, you better believe that campaign contribution is at the front of the politician’s mind, not the people who he represents.
A perfect example of this is the National Rifle Association. The group that so passionately wants to keep firearms legal in this country has more political power than any other group in America. This is because they have money.
Campaigns get the politicians elected. Money drives campaigns. Money gets politicians elected. Therefore the groups supporting these politicians get them elected, and this is something they cannot and are not allowed to forget.
And the advertising and public relations don’t stop after a politician is out of office.
There is a new campaign to get Ronald Reagan’s face on all California license plates. They want to name everything after this guy in California. Has nobody realized what a terrible president he was yet?
His whole presidency was public relations. While things were going terribly wrong behind the scenes, his advisers would sweep them under the rug and ship him off to another cute and heartwarming event. The same day Reagan vetoed a bill that would have allotted funds to nursing homes, he was all over the news at a ribbon cutting of a nursing home — pretending to help the people he had just hurt.
Legislation dealing with campaign contributions and broadcast advertising passed through the U.S. House of Representatives last week and now will go on to the Senate. The bill doesn’t make campaign advertising illegal, but it does take a step in the right direction.
The bill, which passed through the House last year only to see its death in the Senate, seeks to put a limitation on “soft money” contributions. While “hard money” is money donated directly to candidates, soft money is money donated to the political party for “party building.” Soft money contributions are very loosely regulated and often go to individual campaigns.
While this bill doesn’t eliminate the loyalty candidates hold for some groups, its purpose is to curb the unlimited contributions made by corporations, unions and wealthy donors.
These kinds of donations are estimated to climb to $500 million for the upcoming presidential campaign, with Republicans taking a bigger piece of the pie.
But, defying orders from their House leaders, Republicans joined the Democrats in passing the bill, which opponents say is an infringement of First Amendment rights.
“I would urge my colleagues to beware of ‘sunshine patriots’ who come to the defense of the First Amendment only when the speech they defend comes with a price tag attached,” Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., said on the House floor.
House Democrat leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri summed it up well on the floor of the House: “We’ve gone from a government by the people, for the people, to a government of lobbyists and special interests.”
Obviously the common man can still make it to the White House. Clinton proved he is as common as anybody with his churlish “lapses in judgment.” George W. Bush is proving he’s a common man with a party in his nose.
So, for now, the common man can make it to the White House — when he decides to sell out.
Andrew Donohue’s column appears on alternate Fridays. He welcomes comments to [email protected]