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Revisiting Campaign-Finance Reform

By       Message Blaine Kinsey     Permalink
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On January 21, 2010, the Supreme Court issued a decision in the case of CITIZENS UNITED v. FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION (FEC) that essentially prevents restrictions on corporate funding of "third-party" political advertising. The current restrictions on direct corporate campaign donations to political candidates were not at issue in this most recent Supreme Court case, but those restrictions are likely to be the subject of future litigation. This most recent Supreme Court decision also did involve the restrictions on the amount that individuals are permitted to donate to political candidates, but those restrictions would appear to be on the wrong side of the law in probable future litigation that could be determined by the current "Justices" of the Supreme Court. Correcting our fetid system of campaign financing should be given prompt and severe attention because no political issues can be resolved adequately if the public considers that most politicians are corrupt.

Many Democrats are in awe of Barack Obama's ability to raise obscene amounts of money for his campaign to become our President, and that dynamic further weakened already very weak support among Democrats for campaign-finance reform, but the Supreme Court decision in the case of CITIZENS UNITED v. FEC should (please note that I said "should", not "will") help to revitalize support for campaign-finance reform among Democrats in Congress. Congress is held in very low esteem by most people because Congress does not address the real needs of most people, and Congress does not address the real needs of most people because the current method of campaign fund-raising creates a system of legalized bribery that stifles any meaningful reform. It is discouraging that so many politicians are engaged in perpetual fund-raising that seems to eclipse their official duties. However, the Supreme Court decision on 01/21/2010 (CITIZENS UNITED v. FEC) that destroyed much of the McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, and a prior Supreme Court Decision on 06/25/2007 (FEC v. WISCONSIN RIGHT TO LIFE INC.) that also limited restrictions on "third-party" political advertising, and a prior Supreme Court decision in 1976 (BUCKLEY v. VALEO) that banned limits on campaign spending, have made it impossible to legislate limits on campaign donations and/or limits on campaign spending as an effective method of campaign-finance reform.

We may disagree vehemently with Supreme Court decisions relative to campaign-finance, but we must abide by the Supreme Court's interpretation of the Constitution. Congress can attempt to amend the Constitution, but that is a very cumbersome and often lengthy process. Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-IA) has proposed a constitutional amendment that would prohibit a corporation or labor union from using operating funds, or any other general treasury funds, for federal campaign advertising, regardless of whether the advertisement expressly advocates the election of or defeat of a candidate. Such an amendment (or an amendment to specify that corporations are not entitled to be considered as persons for the purpose of determining the rights of corporations under our Constitution) would negate the most pernicious effects of the Supreme Court decision in CITIZENS UNITED v. FEC, but such amendments would NOT correct the culture of corruption that already exists in our sordid system of campaign financing.

In response to the Supreme Court decision in CITIZENS UNITED v. FEC, I have revised a proposal for campaign-finance reform that I offerred previously in an article titled "BLUEPRINT FOR A NON-VIOLENT REVOLUTION" (11/02/2008 on OpEdNews). Various proposals for public financing of political campaigns have the serious problem that many people (myself included) are disgusted by the thought of tax dollars being used for political campaigns (especially in the current corrupt political environment), and public financing of political campaigns would require significant public spending to provide any significant counterweight to the undue influence of corporations and other wealthy donors. Therefore, my plan for substantial public financing of election campaigns provides a source of revenue that should neutralize the public's revulsion at the thought of tax dollars being spent for election campaigns.

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First, the gross amount of all political donations (regardless of the source of such donations) to any political candidate or potential political candidate for any office, and the gross amount of all donations to any person or organization (including political parties) supporting any political candidate or any political issue, should be treated as taxable income to the RECIPIENT of such political donations. The income from all political donations should be subject to a Federal income tax of 50 percent of the GROSS amount of the donations received. However, this Federal tax rate should be reduced by the amount of any income tax paid to any State which passes legislation to tax the receipt of political donations.

Campaign-finance legislation should state specifically that any corporation that makes any political donation (i.e., defined as the gross amount of any donation to any political candidate or potential political candidate for any office, and also defined as the gross amount of any donation to any person or organization, including political parties, supporting any political candidate or any potential political candidate or any political issue) would be required to segregate such political donations within an internal entity that would be designated as a political action committee of that corporation. The campaign-finance legislation also should state specifically that any political advertising or political advocacy in any form that is produced directly by a corporation or procured directly by a corporation (i.e., in contrast to a donation by that corporation to another person or another entity) using the funds of that same corporation would be considered to have been funded by a political donation of the stockholders of that corporation to the political action committee of that same corporation, and the campaign-finance legislation also should state specifically that the political action committee of that same corporation then would be considered the recipient of the political donation for the purpose of establishing the taxable income of political donations made by a corporation to the political action committee of that same corporation (and furthermore that this income would be taxable income regardless of the tax status of the corporation with respect to any other income).

Campaign-finance legislation should stipulate that any loan received by a person or organization advocating any political issue would be treated as taxable income until actual repayment of such loan. Donations received by religious organizations that engage in political activity should also be subject to taxation, with the exception that any funds strictly segregated for religious expenses or charitable expenses would remain exempt from taxation.

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Campaign-finance reform legislation also should include the following specifications:
(1) All of money collected from taxes under this proposal should be held in a public campaign fund, and none of the tax money distributed from the public campaign fund created by this proposal would be subject to the tax on political donations;
(2) All of the tax money collected from political donations for State offices (or offices of a political subdivision of a State) should be distributed to any States which pass legislation to use such distributions to create public campaign funds that must be designated specifically to sponsor televised debates and/or televised public meetings for campaigns for all qualified candidates for congressional Districts and Statewide offices;
(3) All of the remaining tax money collected under this proposal should be available for distribution by the Federal Election Commission to any qualified organization (such as the League of Women Voters} to sponsor televised public debates and/or televised public meetings for all qualified candidates for Federal offices;
(4) A qualified organization would be any organization that adheres to the guidelines of this proposal, and a qualified candidate would be any candidate who qualifies to be listed on the ballot for the primary or general election;
(5) Any person or organization, receiving money from these Federal and State public campaign funds and sponsoring a televised political debate or televised public meeting for any elected office, should be required to include all qualified candidates for that elected office, and should be required to provide equal time for all qualified candidates during these public forums, and only actual expenses of a such sponsors should be reimbursed. (A State could discourage frivolous candidates by a legislative examinination of the requirements which must be met by candidates to be listed on the ballot for primary and general elections.); and
(6) Any national television network (including PBS) could be used as the medium for televised debates and/or televised public meetings for candidates for President in the general election, and any television station(s) accessible by more than 80 percent of the potentially-eligible voters for the contested office (or Statewide Presidential Primary election) could be used for any other televised debates and/or televised public meetings.

Any campaign-finance reform legislation should retain record-keeping and reporting requirements contained in current Federal law (primarily due to the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002), and this information, which can be accessed through the Federal Election Commission, should remain readily available as a topic for debate in the forums that I have proposed for public financing of political campaigns.

In my article titled "BLUEPRINT FOR A NON-VIOLENT REVOLUTION" (11/02/2008 on OpEdNews), I included some suggestions to improve the integrity of our election process. I am not going to repeat those suggestions in this article, but restoring the integrity of vote-counting is extremely important, and the failure of Congress to address this issue is a prominent indicator that a culture of corruption permeates both parties in Congress. Legislation that has been submitted to safeguard election results (such as H.R. 811 submitted by Rep. Rush Holt on February 5, 2007) has been hijacked and grotesquely modified by other members of Congress (Democrats and Republicans) to protect the commercial interests of the manufacturers of electronic-voting technology at the expense of the voting public. Some people think that we should refrain from voting because voting legitimizes our corrupt political system. Although I share the sense of frustration that is a part of exercising the the right to vote, it is my opinion that most politicians take voter apathy to the bank, and far too many politicians are quite content that legions of potential voters do not participate in elections, irrespective of the fact that some of these inactive voters might express a noble purpose for withholding their vote.

I do not think that campaign-finance reform and election reform should be used as an excuse to ignore other important political issues. However, there is little that is more subversive to democracy than electronic voting machines which do not count large numbers of votes or incorrectly count large nmbers of votes, and this has occurred in many jurisdictions during the past few years. BlackBoxVoting.Org has documented many surreal election results for which the only recount available was an electronic recreation of a computer program that appeared to have generated an erroneous result either due to improper manipulation of electronic technology or due to a malfunction of electronic technology. If an electronic tabulation which is erroneous is replicated, repeating the error does not correct that error. Even if a particular electronic voting system might be reliable otherwise, the significant flaws in computer technology and the documented incidents of errors in actual elections are such that the public will NEVER have confidence an any electronic voting method that does not include a reliable and transparent method of verifying the result.

My suggestions for campaign-finance reform are far from perfect, but reform of our corrupt campaign-finance system is necessary. Implementation of my plans for campaign-finance reform would create a system which would limit campaign spending to reasonable levels naturally (this would avoid any need to establish arbitrary limits, on campaign donations and campaign spending, that would probably be ruled as unconstitutional by the current "Justices" of the Supreme Court). Implementation of my proposals would result in fewer candidates who are under obligation to narrow-interest groups, and that would produce a system of elections that should considerably increase the quality of our elected representatives. I am sure that I have overlooked some issues, and other people may think of ways to improve my suggested reforms, but I think that the legislation I propose would create a much more positive environment for eligible voters to participate in elections, and I think that the legislation I propose would increase voter participation by a less-alienated, more-informed electorate

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I am retired after working 33 years as a Claims Representative for the Social Security Administration, and I am a card-carrying member of the ACLU.

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