Gun vote shows how money has corrupted our political system

I have nothing to add to the millions of people who have expressed dismay and shock that the Senate could not pass a bill to increase background checks on gun buyers. As all the media except for maybe Fox News have reported, around 90% of all Americans supported increasing background checks. Yet the Senate couldn’t muster the 60 votes needed to prevent a filibuster, and so the bill failed.

The Senators who voted against the bill all have one worry: If they voted in favor of what their constituents wanted, gun rights organizations such as the rabid National Rifle Association and even more rabid Gun Owners of America would give exorbitant amounts of money to their opponents.

While I’m certain that a few of the 45 Senators voting against better background checks are gun crazy, it was the potential loss of their job that made many if not most vote thumbs down.

Forget about integrity or ethics. What happened to doing what the people who elected you want you to do?

Many blame the rules of the Senate for the failure of a bill supported by virtually every American. But I blame it primarily on money.  It should be clear to most Americans by now that money plays too great a role in American politics and political campaigns.  Congress should act to overturn the decision in Citizen’s United and institute real campaign reform.

I would start by limiting the amount of money that can be spent on any candidate’s campaign by anyone—different limits for different campaigns. Negative ads against one candidate would count against the total for every other candidate in that particular race. If a candidate is mentioned positively in an issue ad, say on gun control or abortion, it would count towards his or her total; if mentioned negatively in an issue ad, the amount spent on the ad would count towards the totals of the other candidates. I would begin the count the day after the previous election so that the total would apply to four years worth of spending for a presidential candidate, six years for a candidate for the U.S. Senate and so forth. Included in the count would be all spending for a candidate, including traditional and online advertising, social media campaigns, travel, consultants, polling and public relations efforts.

The immediate objection is that candidates have no control over other groups. Opponents might nefariously spend out a candidate in the first year of a four-year presidential cycle.  That takes a quick fix: forbid third party groups from mentioning a candidate positively or neutrally in an ad or brochure without the candidate’s permission.

I would keep the limits very low. Based on reports that Obama and Romney spent a combined $2 billion waging the 2012 presidential campaign, I would set the limit at $100 million a candidate for president and scale it down from there. The low limit would encourage more candidates and more parties and not give such as extreme edge to wealthy candidates such as Romney.

My proposal is a pipe dream, of course. It might take a constitutional amendment and it certainly would have a tough row through Congress. The political industry comprising consultants, lawyers, PR and advertising agencies, polltakers, IT specialists, graphic designers, printers, actuaries, telemarketing firms and social media companies would be against it. But most importantly, the people behind the money currently being spent on campaigns—be it gun makers, investment banks, multinational manufacturers or right-wing free market free booters like the Koch brothers—would be against it because they would lose their big edge in their battle against the majority—the ability to buy elections.


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