We Have the Power To Take Back Our Government
By ED KOCH
Money has taken over our political system in a way that is simply horrifying. Special interest groups in particular corporations, unions, Wall Streeters and bankers dominate our politics. They have devastated this country economically, yet they have gotten away with it because they choose and finance our candidates for low and high public office. We complain but do nothing about this situation and feel helpless.
But we are not helpless. Because of our numbers, we have in our power the ability to amend the Constitution of the United States to vastly limit the power of money to manipulate and control the electoral process. Let’s do it. Those in our society who unfairly use the power of money to oppress us do not have to prevail. They are vastly outnumbered by the backbone of our nation, the middle class, and by others who are similarly outraged by the power of money to oppress us.
Whenever commentators talk about a possible political candidate running for high office, particularly for president, their first observation will be, does he/she have the capacity to raise the money needed to fund the campaign?
President Obama, seen as a reformer to his supporters, surprised many when he announced he would be raising a billion dollars for his 2012 reelection campaign. He expects the Republicans will be raising at least that much and probably more.
The U.S. Supreme Court in a host of decisions has made clear that it interprets the Constitution as allowing the broadest freedom in spending money on a campaign for public office. The case which set the tone for the cases to follow was Valeo v. Buckley in 1976. It established that candidates for public office who agreed not to take public funding could spend as much of their own money as they wanted to on their own campaigns, federal, state and local.
The most recent of the U.S. Supreme Court decisions on this issue, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in 2010, went further and stated that the government may not ban political spending by corporations in candidate elections.
Rules are imposed by the Federal Campaign Finance Board on federal campaigns. Localities like New York City have their own monitoring agencies. Candidates are required to make a host of public filings on amounts collected, monies spent, and provide the names of contributors to the different campaigns, both those administered by the candidates directly and those administered independently of the candidates but supporting candidates or public issues. The rules are many and campaigns employ lawyers and accountants to follow them. Many candidates fail to file all the information required or to observe all the regulations and are subject to major fines.
The greatest expenditure for most campaigns is the cost of television and radio commercials, the former far outweighing any other media. The television licenses provided by the government could require as they do in some other countries that the station provide the candidates with free time and remove that enormous financial burden from the campaign. Regrettably, that has not happened in our country. The television industry is far too powerful to permit such free access. The television industry is one of the special interests dominating the Congress.
This past weekend there was a front-page article in The New York Times addressing the issue of campaign finance. The Times and other newspapers and opinion makers have addressed that issue in the past, but apparently for the most part, those articles and the inherent warnings have fallen on deaf ears. Neither the Congress nor the public has responded with action.
On Aug. 28, The Times reported on an independent committee raising money for Republican Gov. Mitt Romney’s campaign for president. The reporter, Nicholas Confessore, wrote:
“Mr. Romney’s appearance underscored the increasingly blurry line between presidential candidates and the so-called Super PACs that have proliferated since a 2010 Supreme Court ruling allowed independent groups to raise unlimited amounts to promote candidates.”
The article went on: “Increasingly, the new Super PACs are taking on tasks that in previous years were handled – and paid for – by the candidates themselves. But instead of using money raised in the $2,500 increments that federal law imposes on candidates, the Super PACs can accept donations of unlimited amounts. (The groups must disclose their donors, though some Super PACs, including Priorities USA and the Karl Rove-founded American Crossroads, have affiliated nonprofit arms that do not have to disclose donors.)”
What is so absurd is that there is a remedy: a constitutional amendment. Yes, it is difficult to pass a constitutional amendment and rightfully so. The Constitution shouldn’t be easily amended. But this situation is so awful, I have no doubt that Democrats, Republicans, Independents and others would flock to the cause.
Around the world many times through violence and non-violence, as was just illustrated in India, through an act of pacifism by one person and his willingness to engage in a hunger strike, the people in all their majesty win.
Why don’t the good government groups in our country convene a meeting to discuss how best to proceed with a constitutional amendment limiting the amounts of money that can be raised from any one individual, corporation or union and spent in any election for public office by candidates and their supporters? We currently have no greater need than that of protecting our democratic system of government.
Ed Koch was the Mayor of New York City from 1978-1989.
Debt Threatens U.S. Prosperity
By HENRY STERN
Although my opinions are my actual beliefs, and this column is serious, I do not suggest that you buy or sell any investment on the basis of my observations.
Apart from the falling stock market, which appears to be a worldwide condition, public opinion is trending to concern that America may be headed for a new recession. The anticipated decline is not particularly the fault of American banks or irresponsible lending policies, although unsound business practices have weakened the economy. European nations as well appear to have spent more than they have, and the result of their overspending has undermined the euro and threatens the economies of other countries in the zone.
The allegedly offending nations are Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain. As luck would have it, the acronym for the quartet is PIGS. The problem of spending is however global. It results from people’s natural desire to enjoy goods and services which they cannot afford to purchase with their current earnings, which come from jobs that may or may not exist next year. The issue of debt affects individuals, families, small and large businesses, and governments on the municipal, state and national levels.
Our democracy has served us for 235 years, and the United States has not yet been bankrupted. The country has weathered wars, panics, recessions and depressions. Individuals have been wiped out financially, and too many are today unable to find work. Yet America moves forward, with its people enjoying a generally high standard of living by comparison with other countries.
Nonetheless, with our unemployment rate stubbornly above nine per cent, and with many additional millions of people underemployed, or so discouraged that they have left the labor market, the economic state of the nation is not healthy for more than twenty million Americans. The rate may be 9 percent, but if you are one of the 9 percent, the rate is 100 percent.
Some problems are fairly obvious. If goods can be manufactured or assembled in China or in any number of third world countries, at a far lower cost of production than in the United States or most European nations, why should any business organized to earn a profit for its shareholders and wealth for its officers manufacture products anywhere else? The decline and fall of tariff barriers in international trade has generally been regarded by moderates as a good thing. Its effect was supposed to be to increased wages and improved working conditions in the poorer countries, without adverse effects on the wealthier nations.
Unfortunately, political and economic issues sometimes work out in ways that were not expected. We do not have the ability or expertise to tell at what level, if any, tariffs should be imposed.
President Obama’s actions to turn the economic tide have been ridiculed by his political opponents, who have directed a constant stream of attacks on whatever he does or says. This is comparable in some ways to the Democrats’ assault on George W. Bush. Obama has been scorned by both the right and the far left, although with the Congress as it was in 2009, it is not clear what more Obama could have accomplished.
One thing we have learned by living through enough business cycles is that, in general, the result of repeated rises and falls is a rise in the indexes. That is not true of specific stocks, bonds or real or personal property, which may become worthless as time goes by. Although present economic conditions will eventually improve, possibly sooner than later, a great deal of damage will have been done to people who will not be in a position to benefit from the recovery.
When he came to office in January 2009, in the wake of the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September and the forced sale in March of Bear Stearns to J.P.Morgan for $10 a share (it had sold for $133.20 within a year before) Obama and his new cabinet were faced with the risk of a rapidly deteriorating economy. President Bush and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulsen (former head of Goldman Sachs) had secured the first bailout legislation from Congress, which Bush signed on Oct. 3, 2008.
When asked why he supported and signed the bailout when all his life he had been a supporter of free enterprise and generally opposed to government intervention (interference is the pejorative synonym), Bush replied that he did not want to go down in history as the President who watched the economy go to pieces and did nothing about it.
Are the federal remedies for unemployment and the credit freeze working today? Certainly not as well as we would like. Is there anything more that could be done? The idea that keeps recurring is putting the unemployed to work on the infrastructure, as President Roosevelt did during the Great Depression.
Unbelievable as it may seem today, at one time in the ’30s there were 1800 architects and engineers working for the New York City Parks Department under Commissioner Robert Moses paid by the federal government. They built or renovated over six hundred parks, playgrounds, swimming pools and beaches.
Part of my underlying liberalism is the opinion that people who are capable and willing to work hard should have the opportunity to do so, perhaps not in the field or at the level they prefer, but they should be enabled to support themselves and their families. How to do this within a free enterprise system is a challenge.
The economic situation today is unsatisfactory for tens of millions of Americans. The President is likely to be judged on how he deals with the economy. But little as he may have been able to do, his political opponents offer less equity and new innovation.
The idea that everything will get better if it is made easier for people to exploit the less fortunate is hard to believe and not supported by evidence or experience. We will see how it resonates with the American people. In 2010, they voted by a substantial margin to replace incumbents. Who will they blame if conditions do not improve by 2012?
These are the views of a self-proclaimed liberal with sanity. Some may challenge that characterization, but these are the differences in opinion to which, as part of their certain inalienable rights, all men and women are entitled, dare one say, by their Creator.