|San Bernardino County, CA||November 7, 2000 Election|
Campaign Finance Reform
By Gwyn E. HartleyCandidate for United States Representative; District 42
This information is provided by the candidate
There's a crime in progress, a crime against democracy. I think we need to do something about it right now.Campaign finance reform. Everyone says they want it. From the nation's Capital a predictable crew has taken up the matter. They seem to comprise two types: those with good intentions and the wrong idea, and those with bad intentions and no idea. The ballot propositions we Californians recently passed have been nullified in court by powerful opponents bolstered by a Supreme Court that associates free speech with the freedom to contribute. For them money talks.
Very recently we see some reversal of this position. Justice Stevens issued an opinion, saying in part: money is not speech, money is property. With this happy turn of events I don't want to detract from reformers' efforts in to control contributors. Eventually we might even gain some limited success. But I think that realistically we need to open a second front if we hope to win. I want to attack the reform issue not from the side of the donors, but rather from the side of the recipients, the public office holders, restricting what they can accept.
My thinking is this: while speech is a basic human right, holding public office is not. You must earn votes, which no one is compelled to cast for you. You must perform the duties of your office to some minimum level of competence and ethical standard, or else forfeit the place. We can set those standards by law. That's my point of attack. Most particularly, I want to focus on the concept of conflict of interest.
What does it mean, "conflict of interest"? As Bill Clinton tap dances around the most recent DNC boondoggle, I hear commentators intoning the phrase, "tit for tat," which I take to be a translation of the more stately Latin, "quid pro quo." A great hiding place for scoundrels! Decoded, I believe this means: there's no wrong-doing unless we prove a specific payment bought a specific vote. Nearly impossible. Only worth trying because you can go onward with a bad idea, whereas you can't go anywhere with no idea.
How about a better idea? We define conflict of interest more broadly, recognizing in the most obvious commonsense way, that the sources of anyone's income always and inevitably carry disproportionate influence with the recipient. We further realize that disproportionate influence violates the essential principal of our nation, which says all humans are created equal. Disproportionate influence is a crime against democracy. Conflict of interest must always exist where office holders (or candidates) enjoy special relationships with some constituents based on the transfer of money, because their essential duty is to represent all citizens as equals. Conflict of interest is a crime against the ancient spirit of democracy, and we have every right to declare it so under law and to bar the guilty from taking office.
I believe this approach is simple and direct, in contrast to the awkward, baroque, and thus far unavailing attempts we've made to govern contributors. Apparently it requires some public funding of campaigns, which the public frankly distrusts. But an honest comparison of the costs of campaigns -- which necessity could reduce by 90% or more -- with the cost of abdicating our democracy to corporate PAC's, such a comparison should win most voters over.
To get from where we currently stand, somewhere in the midst of Thomas Jefferson's major nightmare, to where we want to be, calls for some transitional period, which I've tried to build into the manuscript language. I hope you'll find it readable and suggestive, and I look forward to your comments on the effort, both the concept and the draft text, which will soon be posted on my website:
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