Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A Presidency for Sale

By Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey
MAS Freedom Civil and Human Rights Director

WASHINGTON, D.C. (MASNET) September 10, 2007 - Think you'd like to be President of the United States? Great! Just be sure to bring your checkbook.

And make sure it's a very big checkbook.

That's the advice from Michael E. Toner, Chairperson of the Federal Election Commission, who commented recently that the "entry fee" for serious presidential candidates in the 2008 election will reach an estimated record figure of no less than $100 million dollars. And this amount only buys an admission ticket to the game!

For candidates seriously aspiring to win the general election, campaign expenses continue to skyrocket, that is to say, unless the candidate is other than a Democrat or Republican. History has repeatedly demonstrated that Libertarians, Greens, and other independents, seem to fall short of being given serious consideration in the electoral process when it comes to Presidential elections.

As we are well aware, the mad scramble for the Democratic and Republican party nominations is in full swing, and it has started earlier than in any previous election cycle in history.

The current Democratic Party front-runners, Senators Clinton and Obama, raised, at the end of the second quarter of 2007, $63 million and $58.9 million, respectively. Senator Clinton, who is also a millionaire, accepts money from Political Action Committees, while the less-affluent Senator Obama - at least for now - does not.

By contrast, Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, the grassroots "peace" candidate in the field of Democratic contenders, has pulled in campaign contributions totaling approximately $1.17 million.

On the GOP side, Former Governor Mitt Romney, who has a personal fortune estimated at over $350 million, has successfully raised $44.4 million, and will "loan" a great deal more to his campaign from his own very deep pockets.

But if money is the primary fuel that propels the national electoral machinery, how important, really, are the values of integrity, wisdom, compassion, and competence?

Is access to money - and a lot of it - the best criterion for national leadership?

And how could a credible candidate without deep pockets possibly compete for a presidential nomination?

One idea - that of public financing for presidential campaigns - has been around for awhile. The trade-off, in this case, would be the guarantee of federal campaign funds while imposing a cap on overall campaign spending. However, faced with the possibility of limited spending, most of the announced candidates opt for no public money, and, therefore, no restrictions on the campaign money they raise, and spend, in pursuit of their presidential ambitions.

Many people in America are probably dissatisfied with this money-driven, and special interest driven, quadrennial political pageant.

The highest elected office in the land is now, unofficially, open only to individuals who are either themselves millionaires, or who primarily serve the economic and political interests of the rich and ultra-rich.

The common loss for the voting public is evidenced by a severely limited range of political options presented in the national debates.

Rich people have good ideas about government and national policies, to be sure. But the vast majority of us, who are neither rich nor politically connected to money, have important things to add to the national discourse as well. And a government "of, by, and for the people" must be, primarily, a government made up of, and responsible to, the rest of us.

This is why, as activists for democratic change (as in the small "d"), we should not only carefully weigh the decision of how to cast our primary election votes, but also on how we can, and must, participate in a broad, national initiative to demand radical changes in the way we finance presidential campaigns.

And ultimately, on how we can open the entire political selection and representation process up, to the vast majority of non-millionaires in America.

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