Millions of dollars are being spent to defeat health care reform. Sadly, this is an accepted point of fact…not a political spin that is even disputed by those who are spending the money. Actually, those who oppose health care reform are proud that they’ve been able to organize such an effective effort. After last Saturday night’s House vote, it appears to many liberal thinkers…and conservatives for that matter…that the massive lobbyist blitz against health care reform has effectively neutralized the most critical parts of health care restructuring, making the House bill basically an exercise in political theater. Time will tell, but at present it appears the lobbyists against health care reform have won…they wield enough control of the purse-strings on Congressional campaign contributions that they can say so far: ‘The price is right.’
Recently, some people have started to take another look at campaign finance reform. And health care legislation isn’t the only reason. Millions of dollars in lobbyist spending is focused also on severely limiting any dramatic changes in financial market regulation or economic bailout accountability. It seems the more you look the more you see…that lobbyists have a large influence in many important legislative efforts. So, where does the money come from…and what does it mean for the stability of our democracy?
I remember having forums on campaign finance reform. Some bold legislation was proposed, but then it was watered-down to the point of being irrelevant. The biggest thing I remember about our forums was that everyone who attended seemed to see themselves as being a political outsider…being shutout somehow from an effective role in shaping legislation. These folks basically expected their voice to matter whether they had money to contribute or not. They quoted the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, focusing their faith and hope in democratic principles. At the end of the day, most believed that if campaign finance reform wasn’t achieved, their voices would remain distant and faint in the legislative process. And they were right.
I’ve come to believe that it boils down to this…either our free enterprise system is meant to support the stability of our democracy OR our democracy is meant to support the stability of our free enterprise system. I wish I could identify another option here, but at present I can’t. While there are many nuances in how this simple priority balance works, the basic question remains: which is primary…and which is supportive? The answer to this question seems to decide where you stand on campaign finance reform.
But why would anyone believe it’s best to let corporate donors and industry lobbyists control the effectiveness of Congress…and the White House? Corporate America was too big to let fail in the second greatest economic collapse in our nation’s history, and stabilizing financial markets is more important than reversing the policies that continue to destroy the American dream for hundreds of thousands of our neighbors every month…our priorities actually seem pretty clear. Corporate leaders in our free enterprise system who value business and investor welfare higher over social welfare continue to exert almost absolute control over Congress and the federal agencies tasked with accountability oversight. My feeling is that campaign finance reform hasn’t been approached, because it’s been decided by our elected officials that our democracy is meant to support the stability of the free enterprise system.
It’s time to return to the issue of campaign finance reform, but not in the same way we did in the last forums. We need to confront the basic priority of our politics and of our culture…to give our neighbors a clear opportunity to decide what’s most important…our free enterprise system or our democracy. I believe this is the most important conversation we’ll ever have about the future of our country.