Thursday, November 13, 2014

Money Talks

If according to the United States Supreme Court, money is speech, it speaks very loudly.  In fact, it probably speaks at a greater volume than any human voice can muster.  Tip O'Neill, a former Speaker of the United States Congress, once said that money is the mother's milk of politics.  If anyone doubts that money is a large factor in elections, and growing, one only needs to view the most recent election, both nationally and statewide. 

When I ran for office in 1962, I ran a primary election, a run-off election in the primary and a general election and spent less than $5,000 in a county-wide race in Jefferson County.  Even at that time, I was outspent about three to one by my opponents.  Luckily for me, I could muster about 100 volunteers on short notice to go out and put up signs and campaign for me.  Apparently the role of volunteers is diminishing and the role of money is increasing.  If you examine the recent Governor's race in Texas, Democrats allegedly had about 3,400 volunteers on the ground working diligently, attempting to get out the vote.  Wendy Davis, Democratic nominee, although able to raise a considerable amount of money, was outspent more than two to one and was defeated by a rather large margin.

 Nationally, many pundits attribute the drubbing of the Democrats to the fact that billions of dollars was spent on behalf of Republican candidates who created an incessant television and radio message that all the ills of American Democracy should be laid at the foot of Barack Obama--along with the cry that the Democratic nominee for the Senate or House of Representatives was simply a clone for Obama.  Unlimited spending unleashed by the United States Supreme Court has made campaign spending obscene.  In some areas, so many TV spots were purchased that ordinary advertisers could not get their business advertising aired on local television stations.

Unlimited spending coupled with voter apathy in my opinion is a real danger to the democratic process.  In Texas, less than a third of the registered voters have decided who will make the laws which we will all be subject to in the next two to four years.  The vast majority of the winners in this election were supported with contributions in the millions.  What is worse, due to the Republican United States Supreme Court, we have no idea who donated most of this money. 

If you really believe that money does not make a difference, and if you have never given a contribution to a candidate for the US Senate, try picking up the phone and calling your United States senator and ask for a call back.  It will amaze me if you are able to speak to that official.  On the other hand, I would wager the fellow who gave a $100,000 contribution in the recent election to support that U.S. Senator, either Cruz or Cornyn, would get a call back before the sun goes down.  The point is--money makes a difference and unfortunately, of late, money seems to mean more than volunteer political operatives on the ground.

I believe it to be a pending tragedy for our Republic that 60% of registered voters in the State of Texas fail to vote.  Even fewer of our concerned citizens took the time to get out and campaign for a candidate of their choice.  There are two things we, as citizens, should do.  First we should shame our fellow citizens who didn't vote, and who are apparently contemptuous of the precious right to vote and select our leaders.  Second, we should demand our elected officials to provide at least transparency in political contributions.  If, because of the Citizens United decision of our US Supreme Court, we cannot limit the amount of money that the ultra-rich contribute to buy the election, at least we could have a provision which provides the names of the purchasers.

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