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Votes

Column: Elections 2012—The Best Money Can Buy?

Independent Progressive.

Nope! The vast majority certainly won’t get the best! Elections are awash in cash—incumbents and challengers selling “access” and big contributors buying influence. Our election campaigns—local and national—last longer and cost far more than those in other western democracies. And, fewer of potential voters actually vote—just over half in presidential elections, maybe half that in Virginia and local elections. Only two parties effectively play in elections at any level. Voting districts, such as our new 11th, are designed to serve incumbents. Money, lengthy campaigns and limited candidate selection discourage participation.

When Restonians go to the polls next Tuesday, we will be voting for a rep in Congress, a U.S. senator, and the president. It seems like the candidates (all men, except well-qualified but hidden from view Jill Stein of the Green Party) have been campaigning forever. For Congress, we’ve got incumbent Gerry Connolly who has received $2.2 million in contributions, 86 percent from large contributors and PACS according to the Center for Responsive Politics (www.opensecrets.org). His Republican opponent, Chris Perkins, has raised $500,000, while Green Party challenger Joe Galdo and Independent Mark Gibson have raised $15 K and $4 K respectively. The media ignores the latter candidates, treating only Rs and Ds like official candidates—another serious flaw in our decrepit and dysfunctional system.

We’ll also select a U.S. Senator from former governors Tim Kaine (D) and George Allen (R)—the “official” candidates—and invisible Independents Kevin Chisholm and Terrence Modglin. Kaine has over $15 million in campaign cash, 80 percent from big contributors and PACs; Allen has over $13 million, 81 percent from the Koch brothers and other big boys. Of all the candidates on our ballot, incumbent Barack Obama has the highest percentage of small donors giving to his war chest, about 35 percent. Mitt Romney, his shape-shifting opponent, gets only 15 percent from small donors. Obama and Romney each have war chests over $1 billion. The Center for American Progress reports that one Romney donor, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, gives $100 million to Romney. Adelson, most of whose casinos are in Macau, China, stands to make $2.3 billion from this investment through Romney tax plan provisions favoring offshore enterprises and reduced corporate taxes.

What we are getting is huge, impersonal marketing campaigns yielding precious little substantive information for potential voters. Are we getting good candidates? Perhaps in a few cases, but rarely. Given time, I can get you a small list of pols with vision and values, but few are the long-term incumbents so typical today. While many pols start out with vision and good intentions to serve all the people, they undergo a metamorphosis over time to become used car sales persons who rarely produce legislation benefiting other than narrow special interests. Most constantly market themselves for re-election, because they’ve become career pols, elitists who have forgotten why they went to Congress, Virginia Senate, Board of Supervisors, etc. in the first place. Sorry, there are no more citizen legislators.

Our political system has decayed badly. Reasons for decay include the over-sized role of big bucks, deterioration of our fourth estate to shine light on policy-makers, incumbent-designed districts and more. Next time: What can we do?