Dick Lyles: Yes, oversight is needed
By Dick Lyles
I agree with Amy that it takes a lot of money to get elected to office these days. This is both a blessing and a curse. But as we search for common answers to the campaign problem, it’s important to recognize the role money plays in campaigns and reach agreement about the role it should play.
Campaign strategists today see money as a means to accomplish two goals. First is to provide voters with a compelling reason to vote for their candidate (or cause). Second is to provide voters with a compelling reason to not vote for the opposition. These are legitimate objectives if pursued in a respectful and ethical manner. There was a time when the media could be relied on to vet candidates somewhat objectively and present reliable information upon which voters could decide. Those days are long gone. Today if candidates are going to get their message out, they must do it themselves and that costs money.
Money also affords credibility. For example, would you think more highly of a candidate who raised only a handful of small donations or of one who received $100 donations from 150 members of the local community? People who gather their donations from outsiders or can’t raise any money at all should have less credibility than those who boast a broad, credible support base from within the community.
An overarching problem with political campaigns is that they have lost their both their dignity and their integrity. As a result, more money is spent in many campaigns smearing and spreading lies and half-truths about opponents than is spent communicating solutions to problems, visions for the future, or specific candidate attributes. The 2012 presidential campaign is worst ever in “gutter” politics which has been facilitated by the unintended consequences of past efforts at campaign reform.
Amy is spot on in her assessment that FECA was gutted by the Supreme Court ruling that in effect, equated money with free speech. I also agree that “Super PAC” money is doing more harm than good. However, we’re not quite yet in agreement on how to achieve reasonableness in campaign spending.
As for Amy’s three points. I think campaign donation limits work better than government financing. My reasons are practical rather than philosophical. Government has shown it is biased driven by self-interest. The last thing I want is government controlling spending in political campaigns that decide who should run the government. This is a slippery slope I don’t want to start down. Instead, let’s have a constitutional amendment limiting contributions. This makes campaign donations constitutionally acceptable and prevents the Supreme Court from overriding.
I agree with limits on soft money spending. I can’t think of a case where spending by PACs has helped clarify anything or contributed positively to the campaign conversation. Super PACs are a problem.
I agree with strict regulation and oversight. But I think the overseers should be non-partisan elected officials, one national and one for each state, who serve a term of four years and thus are accountable to the voters. If they don’t enforce the laws, they lose their office.
I agree with Amy that campaign reform is needed. Our political system is broken and needs to be fixed. Today we elect survivors — not leaders. The longer we wait, the worse our problems will become. We share common ground on many of the issues. Perhaps our readers can empathize with both points of view and join our discussion thereby providing grist for future columns that will ultimately lead to a workable solution we all might embrace.
Lyles, a Poway resident, is a business/management consultant and best-selling author.
Each month Lyles and Sandberg write two columns. One is on a topic of their choice. The second “Common Ground” column is intended to explore a topic from the perspective of what can be done to resolve an issue.
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