Occupy Harrisburg Essay | Konversations with Karl: Campaign Finance Reform

Title

Occupy Harrisburg Essay | Konversations with Karl: Campaign Finance Reform

Date

2011/11/26

Language

English

Type

Web Page

Item Type

Web Page

Note

My dear friend Karl Kabutz caught me the other day just as I was heading out to Occupy Harrisburg to stand against the corporate greed that creates artificial barriers that dis-empower people and make life much more difficult and bleak than it would otherwise have to be. We got to talking about how corporate money made its way into politics.

Here’s some of our dialogue:

Karl: Okay I heard all this crap about how corporations are persons and money is speech, but how did it get to the point that corporations began bribing, I mean buying, dammit, I mean contributing so much money to politicians in the first place?

... the airwaves were considered a vehicle for public service ... Therefore it was required that radio and television stations give free airtime for political candidates of all parties.

Me: Well, Karl, I think it really started with the deregulation of the airwaves. You see, up until maybe thirty years ago, radio and television airwaves were considered public domain; they belonged to the people in other words. As public domain, the airwaves were considered as a vehicle for public service as well as an advertising and entertainment medium. Therefore it was required that radio and television stations give free airtime for political candidates of all parties.

Karl: You mean politicians didn’t have to raise millions of dollars to run their campaigns?

Me: Yes Karl, that is correct. A person running for office back then received free airtime for their campaigns. But so did his or her challenger. This was part of the public service that radio and television stations had to provide in order to have their broadcasting license renewed. It also kept the station owners, which were many back then, objective and unable to show favoritism. They just ran the spots and the listener or viewer decided.

Karl: Wow! I guess a politician who was an incumbent could focus more on doing the work of the people who elected him or her under that system because they weren’t sidetracked by having to raise money for the next election.

Me: That’s right. But all that changed when the public airwaves became privately owned and everything aired was for profit. That plus the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Now all candidates running for office must pay for the airtime, and it ain’t cheap. Now the minute a politician gets elected, he or she has to start raising money for the next election; which of course means that the people who contribute the most to the campaign will have much more of that politician’s attention than someone who can only afford contribute a small amount or nothing at all.

Karl: And the people who are able to contribute the most are not people at all, but corporations, right?

Me: Exactly, to the sensible person anyway, but of course since the 1886 Santa Clara Supreme Court decision, corporations have been understood to be people. But your point is correct, only super wealthy corporations can finance election campaigns, not individuals like you or me. But the whole point is, at one time, before the airwaves were considered private property, running an election campaign wasn’t so damn expensive and corporate donations so vital.

Karl: And obviously the corporations were behind making the public airwaves private because that meant everything put on the air was done for profit and not for the public good?

Me: You hit the nail on the head, Karl. Now radio and television stations and the major networks can charge millions for what at one time was free because it was considered a public service. And charge millions they do. But you see, the corporations made this a double win because not only do they make millions from campaign advertising on their stations, but since those seeking office now need to come up with such large amounts of money to fund their campaigns, these same corporations are using their money to fund the campaigns and then the winner is indebted to them to pass legislation favorable to their goals or block legislation that would go against their interests.

So the corporations have succeeded in making the run for elective office so expensive that the candidates have to go to them for financial backing.

Karl: So the corporations have succeeded in making the run for elective office so expensive that the candidates have to go to them for financial backing. What was once a relatively inexpensive process, now costs millions and takes the politician’s focus away from crafting good laws that serve all the people to instead pandering to the corporations and making laws that favor their narrow and selfish interests all to ensure that they will get re-elected.

Me: Exactly! This is just one other way the corporate elite have hijacked our democracy. Back when candidates didn’t need to raise enormous amounts of cash to run for office, elections were more democratic and the people received the attention of the candidates because the candidates knew it was the people who elected them and to whom they were ultimately accountable. Now public elections are just a farce; giving the illusion of choice, even though studies overwhelmingly conclude that the candidate with the best funding wins because that candidate can best bend public opinion their way. And of course, as we know it is corporate funding that pays for the ads and therefore it is corporate funding, not public opinion, which elects politicians and it is to the corporations, not the people, that the politician’s loyalty is directed when legislation is crafted.

Karl: You’re right; this democracy is a total sham. We wonder why we feel so powerless to change anything. Up until now, I thought it was just because only dimwits and buffoons were drawn to politics, but while that may still be the case, there is more method behind it than first appearances would suggest.

Me: Well said and I used to feel the same way. I mean, I don’t consider myself that smart, yet I felt that I could come up with better solutions than these jackasses have. I know people are unique and have different needs, but at the basic level, the level where politics is most involved, people’s needs are pretty much the same. We all want fairness, justice, access to the basic necessities of life. Therefore, I couldn’t believe that it was just that there were too many diverse popular needs gumming up the works and causing government to be so ineffective. And because at that time I hadn’t yet developed the well- deserved, accurate, and experience vindicated cynicism toward politicians, my only conclusion was that these politicians were just plain incompetent dolts. It never occurred to me then, that all this political tap-dancing and double speak was actually the result of the fact that the politicians aren’t working for us after all, but for their corporate and financial backers. Now it all makes sense that so many are frustrated with the system and feel as if it’s not working for them, because it isn’t.

Karl: So is there anything that could restore your confidence in the government?

Me: Well, since you often hear the politicians talking about campaign finance reform, I suggest this: Let’s make the airwaves public again and require broadcasters to be committed to public service as well as entertaining. Go back to when candidates received free airtime and campaigns didn’t require the expense they do now. But I know it won’t happen because that would take corporate control out of government and as long as they have that control, they will not give it up without a fight. A fight they will win and we will lose, because, you see, in order to win that fight, this would have to be a democracy.

Author - Steve Long

Abstract Note

My dear friend Karl Kabutz caught me the other day just as I was heading out to Occupy Harrisburg to stand against the corporate greed that creates artificial barriers that dis-empower people and make life much more difficult and bleak than it would otherwise have to be. We got to talking about how corporate money made its way into politics.

Access Date

2012-01-19 16:05:52

Date

2011/11/26

Language

English

Title

Occupy Harrisburg Essay | Konversations with Karl: Campaign Finance Reform

URL

http://occupyharrisburg.org/konversations-with-karl-campaign-finance-reform/

Website Title

Occupy Harrisburg

Attachment Title

Occupy Harrisburg Essay | Konversations with Karl: Campaign Finance Reform

Attachment URL

http://occupyharrisburg.org/konversations-with-karl-campaign-finance-reform/

Files

Citation

“Occupy Harrisburg Essay | Konversations with Karl: Campaign Finance Reform,” Occupy Archive, accessed August 19, 2022, https://occupyarchive.org/items/show/2982.