John Dorso: On Campaign Finance, Citizens Only Care Where The Money Comes From

For twenty plus years I have watched North Dakota Democrat legislators introduce bills dealing with campaign finance.  During the same time period I am not aware that there ever was a proven case of a Republican being convicted of the fraud that the minority thinks exists.

If there is a need to pass legislation it would be simple to pass a bill requiring each candidate to file every 30 days after June 1st until Jan.1st a report that included the names of any contributor who donated over 200.00 to their campaign.  No restrictions on how much, how often or from whom it came.

Which brings me to what do the voters really care about?  After years in politics I can tell you they only care about where the majority of the money comes from.

At the state level keep it simple.  Candidates for the legislature spend a lot of their time trying to get elected; they don’t need to be burdened with a lot of paper work which only a few voters may care to look at.  Your citizen legislature can only be maintained if you make it easy for candidates to run for office.

I for one found all of the federal election laws needlessly burdensome.  When I ran I resented the prying in to my private business affairs.  I know many qualified people who won’t run for that reason.  Sometimes it is because of a family business and the members of the family don’t want or need to have the press digging around in their financial affairs.  I in fact I divested myself of some of my assets so that I wouldn’t have the burden of reporting year after year where my income was coming from.  There wasn’t anything illegal but factually you need to hire a person familiar with federal campaign finance law to keep you out of trouble.  It took me 4 years after my run for congress to get out from under the election commission even though I had filed my final report within 6 months of the end of the campaign.  In the end I had done nothing wrong but they just couldn’t seem to close the file.  I wondered if we hadn’t created another bureaucracy just to keep people on the federal payroll.

The big plum for Democrats in electing Sen. Heitkamp was the access to campaign funds.  It was well known that for years Senators Dorgan and Conrad supported the North Dakota Democrat party.  This brouhaha over HB 1181 isn’t about anything but the access to the money available in D.C.

This brings us to the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law.  Recently the Supreme Court has knocked down some of its provisions. However, the worst parts of it still stand.  This federal law is the worst thing for democracy you will ever experience.  It has made campaign finance an insider’s game.  The campaign finance law attorneys have found so many ways around the law that it is almost useless.

Let me illustrate.  Each of the leaders of the senate and house has a political action pact.  In fact almost every member has their own pact when they are in office.  The legislator spends hours each week of the year soliciting funds for his or her pact.  Some have hired directors of their pacts that do nothing but raise money for these individual pacts.  When the election cycle comes around the candidates start trading money.  Because individuals are limited in the amount of money they can donate to a particular candidate’s campaign the pacts become the biggest source of campaign finance.  Those all ready in Washington make deals.  A particular representative tells another that if his pact will donate x amount of money to his campaign he will reciprocate with a like amount from his pact.   Sometimes it is a three way shell game.   If a corporate political action committee donates to this pact it is understood that the receiving pact will pass it on to the candidate of the first pacts choice.  The shell game goes on and if you can’t get in on the game you are severely limited in the amount of money you can raise.  Now what you have is members of congress who are limited in the direct contributions they can receive but if they have developed a pact they can trade the dollars around to give them access to a lot more money with fewer restrictions.  Thus a challenger faces a real uphill battle.  When I ran I knew my opponent would get a lot of financial support from pacts in Washington and the two Democrat senators.  The Senators could fill his coffers with as much as needed from their pacts which they had been collecting for over the years.

The big plum for Democrats in electing Sen. Heitkamp was the access to campaign funds.  It was well known that for years Senators Dorgan and Conrad supported the North Dakota Democrat party.  This brouhaha over HB 1181 isn’t about anything but the access to the money available in D.C.  If the Republicans controlled all three federal offices the financial tables would turn from the years of total Democrat control.

I can’t complain as if I had been elected I would have been prodded to set up the same shell game as was all ready in place.  The sad part is that our democracy suffers because of a law that has so many holes in it.

I think the solution is simple.  Although a repeal of the 17th amendment would solve half the problem by allowing US Senators to do their jobs without the influence of money we still need to take care of the Representatives?  Repeal McCain-Feingold in its entirety and replace it with a simple mandate that federal candidates for office report every contribution over $200.00.  No restrictions on how much, how often or who from.   With computers and the internet make the reporting mandatory with in 72hrs. After receiving the funds.   The candidate’s reports would be available to all at the Federal Election web site.  Thus if the voters or the media want to know who is trying to influence the election it is easily available.  It seems that congress is the only place the much needed reform can take place.  Any bets on how soon the incumbents will relinquish their advantage?

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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