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Why Money in Politics is an Intractable Problem – And What I Plan to Do About It

Updated: Aug 31, 2022

Lou Lyras

October 2021

In many ancient empires, the king’s position was divine right – at least while the gods favored the dynasty – but his many administrative positions, including religious positions, were fraught with payment to influence his policies and the subsequent unscrupulous abuse of authority for personal gain. Greece and Rome tried to curb this corruption and briefly attempted term limits on many positions of power with annually elected magistrates. But, to no avail, many magistrates bought their positions, or paid for their rise to power, and once in power, accepted favors and awarded favors to others that helped them stay in power.

So the ugly cycle continued despite attempts at reform. When our country was founded there our forefathers wanted to guard against corrupt rule and pay-for-play power grabs, and they gave us an amendable constitution with a separation of powers and periodic elections to keep the government vibrant with each branch having distinct authority. But, as with all organizations created by men, greed, corruption and graft seeped into the government. By the time Andrew Jackson was elected president in 1828, the spoils (patronage) system gave government jobs to his supporters, friends and relatives. It certainly was no meritocracy. Hence, the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act in 1883 made it illegal to award these positions based on anything but merit.

But as with all powerful empires, money influenced politics. In the 1896 election, William McKinley won after raising significant funds from corporations that prompted Theodore Roosevelt, one of my favorite Presidents, sensing the danger of unlimited money, to declare corporate contributions for any political purpose be forbidden by law. Soon after, congress passed the Tillman Act in 1907, followed by a number of laws to control the influence of money into the political system: the Smith-Connally Act in 1943; the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947; and finally, the Federal Election Campaign Act in 1971. All were a series of attempts to cure most of these problems. I guess by that time we had it all figured out. Or so we thought.

Then, in 1976, the Supreme Court weighed in and determined that some of the provisions in the Federal Election Campaign Act in the case Buckley vs. Valeo, violated the First Amendment. Again, campaign spending limits were lifted on spending for issues advocacy. And in 2010 Citizens United vs. FEC the Supreme Court held that independent expenditures by corporations and labor unions were protected by the First Amendment. The landmark ruling determined that corporations have the same rights as people. Soon the creation of super PACs with unlimited funding drowned out the voice of the common person. I am sure this is not what Teddy Roosevelt or the Founding Fathers had in mind. I am opposed to those decisions. Political campaign spending must be limited by law or the wealthy will drown out our voices, and corporations do not have the same constitutional rights as people. We are promised political equality for all and government of, by, and for the people.

But how can we fix this? PAC groups and political parties will spend enormous amounts of money on campaigns: ads will run on television and social media; newspapers will print more ads, publish politician’s op-eds and endorse candidates. The major political parties will pull their resources and do exactly the same thing. We even praise the candidate who has amassed more money as if this is a measure of one’s qualifications to serve in office! The system is flawed and while we try to make it better, as we should, it is up to each person to try to get all the facts about any particular candidate and be an informed voter.

While that puts the onus on voters, here’s what I promise to do if elected: I will be transparent with the fruits of my fundraising efforts. I will disclose to all of my constituents the amounts of campaign funding raised – and from which sources. I invite you to ask questions about things that are unclear or that may appear circumspect, and I will gladly answer. Together, constituents and their legislators can keep each other honest.

Together we can make a change!


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