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Why We Need Campaign Finance Reform


Rallying around healthcare reform to advance radical leftist economic policies is a sound tactic. Much of the economic issues of property relations, living wages, socialization, tax justice and efficient spending are neatly wrapped up into this one issue. Plus, this is a very important issue to millions of people that has a huge impact on their well being.

But what about the political sphere? Is there a political cause that also neatly defines much of our prime concerns? I think so.
 
Undoubtedly the main issue in American politics for citizens is controlling the politicians. We know damn well that they will say anything to get elected and will drop those promises once elected in order to focus more on the corporate/properties interests of those who financed their campaigns. We see this time and time again.
 
In the May 2009 edition of Z Magazine the activist and writer Paul Street wrote about the Obama presidency and pointed out that:
 
[T]he two parties are not simply interchangeable. It is the Democrats’ job to define and embody the constricted left-most parameters of acceptable political debate. For the last century, it has been the Democratic Party’s distinctive assignment to play "the role of shock absorber, trying to head off and co-opt restive [and potentially radical] segments of the electorate" by posing as "the party of the people"(Selfa). The Democrats performed this critical system-preserving, change-containing function in relation to the agrarian populist insurgency of the 1890s and the working-class rebellion of the 1930s and 1940s. They played much the same role in relation to the antiwar, civil rights, anti-poverty, ecology, and feminist movements during and since the 1960s and early 1970s. In every case, the movements that arose to challenge concentrated power and oppression and to reduce inequality were pacified, silenced, and ultimately shut down, their political energies sucked into the corporate and militaristic Democratic Party.
 
This is certainly true.
 
But what can be done about it? How do we restrict the dominating influence of capital in politics? The American philosopher, John Dewey, once said that “As long as politics is the shadow cast on society by bigbusiness, the attenuation of the shadow will not change the substance.”  
 
In 2008 many Americans tried to attenuate the shadow by voting for Obama, but the movement – and it does exist – to change what casts the shadow was, and is still, under supported, marginalized, atomized and weak. I wonder, though am not entirely sure, if it is our lack of focus on a single issue that encapsulates many of our broader issues, and if won, could be used as a foundation to build later successes on. Would we be better served by finding a common ground and wage our battle from there?
 
That common ground, at least in my opinion, is campaign finance reform. Campaign financing does to the political system what capital does to the market system: it gives undue influence over decision making based on who has the most. In campaigns, as in the markets, you vote with your dollars and those with the most dollars gets the most votes. Campaign financing as it is currently practiced is anti-democratic and produces predictable inequalities that pervert the political system.  The private funding of elections needs to be abolished if we are to have a vibrant democracy where each citizen has a fair and just say in managing their lives (politically speaking of course).
 
If leftist political groups and organizations united and organized around the issue of campaign finance reform and used that as a non-reform reformation (where the reform is not an end unto itself but whose success is used to go further) then it seems to me, and maybe you too, that many of our other political issues have a considerably better chance of success – winning campaign finance reform that reduces the influence of capital while increasing the influence of the public is itself a considerably large gain for Democracy.

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