F.R. Duplantier reporting Behind The Headlines

Week of:
April 23, 2000
The Best Politicians Money Can Buy

F.R. Duplantier

by: F.R. Duplantier

"Candidates have always been bought and paid for. We just didn't know who was doing the buying."

"Why don't Americans care about campaign-finance reform?"asks Roger Hartley, professor of public affairs at Roanoke College in Virginia. "Maybe it's because we're accustomed to the presence of big money all around us," he suggests. "Americans are not offended by commercialism," Hartley contends, "because we see it as an open and competitive process. So are elections," he asserts. "Money in politics is nothing new. In fact, in some ways, big money in politics results from an open political process."

Hartley points out that "in the past those who became president, senator, or dogcatcher were often handpicked in secret by the powerful. We forget," he says, "the days of corrupt political machines making deals in the smoke-filled back rooms of glitzy hotels. Primary elections were facades. Money, loyalty, and access were even more important than they are today. In the good old days," Hartley stresses, "you couldn't even get on the ballot without access to the party bosses. Beginning in the 1960s," he recalls, "these machines were broken up with the rise of primary elections, the rise of the media, and the reforms of earlier 'progressives.' Interest groups came to power, and open elections increased the need for money."

Hartley insists that "these changes have made our political process more open. They also fit with American competition and commercialism. Today," he notes, "you do not have to be picked by party bosses to appear on a ballot. Individuals need only persuade voters they are the best choice. This form of populism was unheard of in the 1940s and 1950s. Are we sure we want to go back?"

Hartley concludes that money has had a positive impact on American politics. "Without the commercial nature of our elections," he contends, "competition in the electorate would not be fair. In fact, political science tells us money is more important to insurgent, outsider candidates," Hartley declares. "Insurgent candidates need to raise their name recognition and get their ideas out. Money allows them to do this," he explains. "Money is the necessary outcome of a political system that is more democratic and less corrupt." Hartley favors "removing all limits on campaign donations and [requiring] absolute disclosure of donations."

That beats hell out of John McCain's proposed campaign finance "reforms," much less Al Gore's. The last thing we need to do is increase the baleful influence of the mainstream media in our elections; their impact on an addlepated populace is harmful enough already. And taxpayer-financed elections has got to be one of the most idiotic ideas in a century brimful of them. You think we have mediocre candidates now? These are office seekers that people are willing to give money to, remember? Just think what sort of candidates we'd get -- and how many! -- if any knucklehead who wanted to could enter a race without worrying about spending his own money or soliciting someone else's! No, I'll settle for the retail candidates we've got now. At least with them, you know what you're paying for.