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Column: Elections 2012—Role of Big Bucks Going Forward

Happy post-election to you all. Before I return to our discussion of our flawed election process and the role of the big bucks, I want to congratulate a good friend and fellow Restonian. Aaron Williams recently resigned after three years as director of the Peace Corps, one of America’s finest organizations. When this Reston resident, a former PC Voluneer himself, took over the Corps, it faced some major issues. He successfully addressed those issues and reformed the agency’s strategic planning tools to assure future volunteers are more effective and better supported in their work. "From working tirelessly to improve volunteer support to his leadership in reforming and modernizing the agency, Aaron has been a champion of the thousands of remarkable Peace Corps Volunteers [9,000] serving across the globe," said President Obama. High praise indeed, and well deserved. You made Reston proud, Aaron!

What impact did the $2 to 3 billion spent on the 2012 elections really have? On the front end, it appears that the money, in many cases, was not the determining factor—even the legendary Karl Rove with $400 million was not able to buy the presidency or the U.S. Senate seat in Virginia. Gerry Connolly overwhelmed his chief opponent financially ($2.2 million to $500,000), but hardcore right winger Col. Perkins was such a mismatch for the new, progressive leaning 11th District, designed for Connolly, that it is hard to imagine a different outcome even if the finances were reversed.

But, here’s the rub. Besides the fact that the sloshing big bucks tend to turn campaigns into marketing slogan slugfests instead of intelligent discourse on public policy ideas and differences, there is the terrible residue of all that money that changed hands from powerful special interests to candidates now indebted to the biggest donors. Those interests expect something in return—and if you follow the U.S. Congress carefully, you’ll notice that votes and actions in Congress tend to move in the direction of those interests.

In the longer term, we have got to attack and reverse campaign finance laws and court decisions (Citizens United) that so corrupt the system supposedly “of and by the people.” In the shorter term, you can take actions yourself by regularly calling and writing your Congressman. Remind Connolly, for example, to support the president on balancing fiscal policy by letting the Bush tax cuts expire on those who make over $200,000 and to support a new farm bill that will stop subsidizing high fructose corn syrup, a major factor giving one in eight Americans diabetes. Tell new Senator Tim Kaine to support the president on making reductions in defense funding going to the corporate military industrial complex for programs neither needed nor wanted by our professional military leaders. I know you can think of many other policies vital to the economic health of middle and lower income Virginians that are headed in the wrong direction if our congressman and senators don’t behave differently. A jolt of citizen action may be our only hope.