It’s easy to muster contempt for Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Politics in America is rife with corruption, but rarely is corruption as brazen and unrepentant as what we’ve been treated to recently by Illinois’ soon-to-be former CEO. To learn that someone apparently would openly try to sell a U.S. Senate seat shocks and disgusts us.
Blagojevich is a menace and needs to go to the gated community where several other Illinois governors before him have gone. But America’s campaign finance system is a far greater menace to democracy. If we can muster shock and disgust for Blagojevich, we should be utterly appalled at the pervasive role of money in politics.
Face it. What we call “elections” have become auctions. The auctioning of U.S. Senate seats occurs every six years – every two years for Congressional and state legislative seats. Big donors, corporations and special interests “bid” on the candidate of their choice. In close races, the smart money bids on both candidates, and the one backed by the highest bidders usually wins.
We don’t want to believe our elected officials can be bought. But as one who served for 14 years in the Iowa House, I say with confidence that what big money wants, big money usually gets. Rank-and-file lawmakers may be well-intentioned but often are strong-armed by legislative leaders beholden to corporate donors and special interests. As a result, the most pressing challenges of our time – climate change, budgetary reform, health care, farm policy, to name a few – see practically no progress year after year.
So, while I hope the good people of Illinois fire Blagojevich and fire him soon, I have a more pressing hope t hat Americans across the country get fired-up for campaign finance reform. In Iowa, Senator-elect Pam Jochum is leading the charge on VOICE (Voter-Owned Iowa Clean Elections). This bill would make it easier for rank-and-file lawmakers to stand up to party leaders, allow more citizens to run for office and give the public far greater access to the halls of power.
The federal equivalent of Pam’s bill is sponsored by Senators Durbin (D-Illinois) and Specter (R-Pennsylvania). Both would establish greater fairness, openness and accountability in the financing of elections. Both deserve our strong backing.
When lawmakers consider whether to support campaign finance reform, perhaps the question they should ask is this: What would Blagojevich do? Well, beyond the Illinois Governor’s attempt to sell a U.S. Senate seat, his veto in 2007 of a bill to prohibit contributions from donors with state contracts of more than $50,000 ma kes it clear he’s no friend of reform.
And I can’t think of a stronger endorsement than that for reducing the role of money in politics.
Friday, December 19
Fallon Right on the Money
Ed Fallon wrote this fine opinion piece that appeared in The Des Moines Register today in relatively similar form, entitled “Illinois seat not only thing that’s for sale.” This is why we continue to need VOICE to be brought forward for passage.