Winds of Change Newsletter, September 2007 See sidebar for table of contents
We care, We Count, WE VOTE!
Public Financing Would Mean Cheaper Elections
by Mike McCabe, August 26, 2007, The Capital Times (Wisconsin)
Unless you ask the right question, youll never get an answer thats worth a damn.
Failure to use such common sense is on prominent display in the debate over the pros and cons of publicly financed elections. Were always asked whether the public should pay for election campaigns.
Wrong question. The only relevant question is how the public should pay. Because we always will pay one way or the other. Theres no way for us to skip out on the bill.
We can either pay for election campaigns directly as citizens in places like Arizona and Maine and Portland, Ore., do or we will pay for them indirectly, as we do here in Wisconsin (Ed. note: same for WV!) every time we all have to pick up the tab for another favor our elected officials do for their biggest campaign donors.
The direct way has a price tag attached. Depending on the kind of system you put in place, the cost for publicly financing state elections in Wisconsin ranges from about $4 million a year on the low side to $10 million to $12 million annually. There are about 3.9 million taxpayers in Wisconsin. So were talking about somewhere between $1 and $3 per taxpayer per year.
Yes, the direct way costs millions, but its a bargain compared to the indirect way.
If you tally up the value of all the special-interest tax breaks, pork barrel spending projects and sweetheart no-bid contracts for state work that Wisconsin politicians have been doling out to their most generous campaign contributors, as Wisconsin Democracy Campaign researchers have done, you come up with a list totaling more than $5 billion a year.
Thats more than $1,300 for every state taxpayer each year. The same thing is happening out in Washington, D.C., to our federal government, only on a grander scale.
So we have a choice to make. We can collectively pay millions to have voter-owned elections, or we can keep paying billions for the donor-owned elections we have now. The problem is we never consciously think of that as our choice, because weve fallen for a false choice namely that we can somehow get off scot-free and not pay a dime toward electing our government officials.
That false choice has been put before us very deliberately and very skillfully by the very people who are profiting at our expense from the current corrupt system. They make sure we are asked a false question whether the public should pay for elections, not how the public should pay based on the utter fantasy that theres somehow a way for the public to pay no price.
Then they slap every pejorative label they can think of on the idea of the public playing any role in financing election campaigns. They call it socialized campaigning and welfare for politicians.
Notice that they are gladly footing the bill for the smear campaigns, because then they own those politicians and are getting a handsome return on their purchase.
You have to hand it to them. They manipulate public opinion with breathtaking skill. Then they financially rape you and me, paying politicians to tax us to benefit them.
And as they do it, they count on us getting even more fed up with government and even more cynical about politics.
They count on us throwing up our hands and saying we dont want anything to do it. They count on us to retreat to our private lives, and leave the governing to them.
Too many of us have done what they expect us to do. And we are paying a stiff price for that.
So go ahead and say you dont want your tax money used for their election campaigns. But theyre using it anyway, way more than you ever knew. And theyll keep right on doing it until enough of us wise up and stop listening to their propaganda, start asking the right questions and then demanding answers that serve the public interest.
Mike McCabe is executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonpartisan watchdog group. The groups web site is www.wisdc.org.