Thursday, October 13, 2011

Stanley Hoffman: Private Financing Of Elections, Filibuster Cause Paralysis

The obscene amounts of money that it now takes to get elected, made all the worse by the Supreme Court’s removal of all corporate spending limits, is the number one reason for the corruption of our political system. The alternative, public financing of elections, has seemingly disappeared. Conservatives uphold private financing as “free speech,” despite the fact that currently those with the most money are able to purchase the most "speech” and influence. That’s how the Koch brothers are able to buy off politicians, who do their bidding and boost their right-wing agenda. When we hear about massive "campaign contributions," we think of it as business as usual–not as the bribery and corruption it is.

Prof. Stanley Hoffman (above), of Harvard's Center for European Studies, pointed to the private financing of elections as one of the three obstacles preventing the country from making progress. He also cites the 60-vote requirement for overcoming a filibuster–surely a recipe for paralysis–and the requirement of states to balance their budgets, which doesn’t allow them to adequately invest when necessary. From “A Cure for a Sick Country?”:

What has created or affected all the conditions of paralysis...has been, first of all, a number of practices that are not in the Constitution, such as the frequent need for a supermajority in the Senate to overcome the threat of filibuster. Secondly, we have a distorted system of private financing of elections that submits the candidates for legislative office to the subtle and seductive tyrannies of private money, a system recently boosted by a 5–4 decision of the Supreme Court. Thirdly, rigid constraints on the individual states, almost all of which are required to balance their budgets, hamper their actions in bad times and put a major burden on the autonomy they are so proud of.

These institutional obstacles assume the preponderance of the wealthy in the political system. Parliamentary systems with public financing for elections can often function as a counterweight to the privileges of fortune; and such public financing can also counter the ability of entrenched minorities in Congress to delay and block reformist schemes conceived by the executive. One of the temptations this state of affairs fosters in presidents is that of finding in patriotic wars a way of overcoming the obstacles the institutional machinery erects.

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