Once again (April 28), The Post and Courier has published a valiant plea from former Sen. Ernest F. Hollings for campaign finance reform, and it demands our attention.
The problem, however, is not so much messy, time-consuming interference with the governing process as it is the shift in the balance of power from the people to the interests of business, finance and industry. The Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United is significant because it is a clear demarcation of the current primacy of monied interests in a struggle that dates back more than a century.
So what do we do about it? Sen. Hollings is correct. The vehicle is a constitutional amendment, but to empower Congress whose members are the chief beneficiaries of the current system is to put the foxes in charge of the chicken coop. The amendment itself has to provide substantive guidance, and here are some suggestions for debate:
1) All contributions to election campaigns for federal office, direct and indirect, should be declared illegal except for gifts made by registered voters within the jurisdictions under contest. Moreover, the amount of the contributions, both individual and in the aggregate, should be limited.
2) Candidates who are able to collect more than a declared minimum should be eligible to collect public funds to match the excess, again subject to the aggregate limitation. However, the source of funds should not be the Treasury; it should draw from the proceeds of a national lottery.
3) To conserve our patience and span of attention, overt campaign expenditures should be limited to a time period of six weeks before a primary and six weeks before a general election.
Admittedly, these concepts present tangential problems. Who would set specific rules and provide interpretation? What would be the role of a national party? Can the positive influence of lobbyists be preserved without financial leverage? What would happen to the burgeoning levels of employment in the campaign industry? And how would this affect the content of talk radio, cable television news and blogs?
We have to engage these issues because, without renovation, the notion of the democratic process as an expression of the will of the people is in jeopardy.