Turning Politics Into Moneyball
I t is an indication of the sorry state of American politics that almost any evaluation of candidates for high office hinges primarily on how much money they have or can raise.
Do they have some good ideas? Fine. But more important, who are their deep-pockets friends? Do they promise justice and fairness for the poor and dispossessed? That's all well and good, but how many super PACs do they have on their side?
And we wonder why more and more people have become so disgusted with politicians at the state and national level that they no longer believe there's anybody out there who deserves to win public office or can be trusted to do the right thing once he or she has won it.
That's not true. There are plenty of good, conscientious, public-spirited potential candidates out there willing to serve. But the system now in place quickly weeds out too many of them before we even have a chance to learn about their attributes.
It's All About Cash
Several theories have been advanced as to why Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue abruptly announced her decision not to run for re-election. She was tired. She was fed up with trying to deal with an ungracious and obstructionist General Assembly. Or (when all other explanations fail) she wanted to spend more time with her family.
But the decisive factor may well have been that she saw she was never going to raise as much money as Republican candidate Pat McCrory, who already has $2 million in his war chest, with indications of plenty more on the way. That alone was enough handwriting on the wall.
The lucre that a person needs to mount a major campaign in this day and age must come from one of two main sources. Either the would-be candidate has enormous personal wealth, a la Mitt Romney. Or else there are enough powerful corporate or other interests out there who like the candidate's positions on the issues and think they could benefit from his or her election.
Opening the Floodgates
What has rendered this situation immeasurably worse, of course, is the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision of two years ago, which is quite possibly the most harmful and ill-advised ruling from that body in a half-century.
By classifying corporations as "persons" and authorizing virtually unlimited corporate contributions to individual candidates with little or no accountability to the public, the ruling opened a set of floodgates that should have been kept closed. The most visible recent result has been the endless barrage of vicious attack ads that allowed Romney to surge ahead in the Florida Republican primary, all the while claiming he had nothing to do with them.
One possible alternative to this charade, public financing of election campaigns, has long been pushed by good-government advocates in North Carolina. But the relatively insignificant gains that have been made in that direction, public funding of Council of State races and a pilot program at the local level, are being systematically starved of funding by the Republican forces now in control of the legislature.
It's better to have elected officials beholden to anonymous special interests, apparently, than to the taxpayers they are supposed to be representing.
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