19 October 2006

Buying your campaign

For a long time, one of my pet issues has been how campaigns are funded. I believe in free and equal speech and I sometimes worry - when I consider the state of our democracy - that money is being used to make campaign speech unequal.

There's a lot of different ways in which this is manifest but one issue of particular concern is self-funded candidacies. We saw this in senatorial primaries in Connecticut and New York this summer. Ned Lamont was able to throw several million of his own dollars into his campaign that ultimately defeated Joe Lieberman. Jonathan Tasini, Hillary Clinton's Democratic opponent in the New York primary, didn't have that kind of personal wealth and even the Tasini and Lamont campaigns were based on a similar premise (the war in Iraq is no good), Tasini went nowhere. Their speech (i.e. their campaign messages) were unequal in large part because of the funding difference, a difference due in large part to Lamont's own wealth.

And now we learn the same thing happens in Alaska:

Candidates in several Anchorage-area state House and Senate races cracked six figures in campaign contributions a month before the Nov. 7 general election, and at least a couple of them have mostly themselves to thank.

Republicans Tom Moffatt and Earl Mayo have pitched tens of thousands of dollars into their bids for a state House seat in the Jewel Lake/Sand Lake area and a Senate seat in Muldoon and East Anchorage, respectively.

Let's not forget, of course, the Independent candidacy of Andrew Halcro. I don't have the exact figures at hand but I believe the vast majority of his funding is coming from his own pocketbook. (Hasn't his campaign been called a "rich boy's ego trip"?) As I've indicated before, I like what he brings to this campaign but if what he's bringing is so valuable shouldn't the people of Alaska be helping him do it?

What I want is to ensure that not only does everyone have an equal right to vote but that everyone has an equal chance to run for office (both are basic preconditions of a democracy after all). And if one's chance to mount a viable campaign for office is dependent not on the quality of one's ideas but on the size of one's wallet, I think that weakens our democracy.

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