Charles Keefer's Blog

Money talks…

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This is a small part of Arlington National Cemetery. I don't think any of these men died thinking they were protecting Halliburton's right to influence votes.


In the wake of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, I’ve been googling (it’s in the dictionary now) the responses looking for something that is sensible. I found some great quotes that don’t address the problem. Here are a few.

“Today’s decision is the Super Bowl of really bad decisions. It returns us to the days of the robber barons,” from Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause.

“It’s near-catastrophic for the republic,” said U.S. Rep. John Larson, D-Connecticut. “As though Washington isn’t already awash with special-interest money. It’s just staggering, the corrosive nature of this and what it will do.”

I saw Barney Frank on the Rachel Maddow show babble about placing statutory limits on what corporations can do.

I’ve only found one reference to a simple proposal that was made by (and bless you Tom Peeling) Teddy Roosevelt – public financing of political campaigns.

“What better time to raise the stakes,” said Bill Scher of OurFuture.org and LiberalOasis.com on the Huffington Post. “Put a constitutional amendment on the floor of the House and Senate creating a public campaign finance system banning all private money.”

When I started in the journalism business, newspapers were just beginning to come to grips with campaign contributions. I remember trying to write a program that would track campaign contributions on the first IBM PC the Palm Beach Post newsroom could access. At the time, I couldn’t do it. I could output campaign contributions at the rate of about one a second from a floppy disk. Inputing them was even slower. There weren’t any high-access terabyte drives. We didn’t have the technology to monitor contributions to city council candidates, much less those to federal office.

Later on, we could track campaign contributions, but at that time there were limits to contributions and we, the press – mostly one very committed guy – had to do a lot of work to connect the dots. I don’t think the public was impressed with our efforts.

Then we started reviewing campaign commercials to assess the truth of their claims. I thought this was a good thing, but the public elected Ronald Reagan anyway.

Then the Supreme Court elected George W. Bush.

During this period of electorial disasters for this country, the simple idea of public campaign financing has smoldered.

I’ll take that simple idea and double it. Do take the money out of politics by taking election financing out of private hands. Also, pay the guys that win so much money that they won’t need to think about what happens if they lose.

The current salary for a congressman is $174,000 a year. Senators make up to $188,100 a year.

The typical salary for the president of a private college is $358,746, according to U.S. News and World Report.

According to Wikipedia, Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of General Electric, made $14,209,267 in 2007.

If we paid each representative one-tenth of what Jeffrey Immelt made in 2007, every one of them could think about retiring after one term (2 years).

Can you imagine how long it would take to pass health care reform if the senators and representatives in Congress were actually working for the people?

My bet would be on last summer.

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Written by Charles Keefer

January 22, 2010 at 7:57 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Sounds like I may have been involved in the first SUCCESSFUL campaign contribution records project.

    I discovered a pattern of contributions that indicated that a NJ car dealer was funneling money into a dark horse candidate through all of his local dealerships to defeat a county commissioner who had voted against him on a zoning issue.

    When The Post turned over the rock and let the light in, the dark horse turned back dark again.

    We started off hiring temps to input the campaign records, but I found that they made so many errors that I convinced the newsroom to pay overtime rates to a woman in accounting and Robin Anderson, the photo coordinator so we’d have accurate info and I could concentrate on analysis instead of proof reading.

    I would work on data standardization all day, then go to the accounting department (because they had the fastest dot matrix printer in the building) and spend until 4 or 5 in the morning generating massive reports for reporters to go through the next day.

    If was one of the most labor-intensive data projects I was ever involved in, but we got some good stories out of it.

    When I originally proposed do it with computers, one editor said, “I don’t see why we can’t just do it with file cards.”

    ksteinhoff

    January 22, 2010 at 10:43 pm


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