The decision of two Democratic presidential candidates, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts and former Vermont governor Howard Dean, to forego federal funding in their campaigns must come as a shocker to many Democrats. Federal funding of presidential campaigns was supposed to be a way to liberate candidates from the need to obligate themselves to the moneybags. Federal funding was looked upon as a triumph of liberals — mainly Democrats.
So, why are Dean and Kerry now turning their backs on federal funds and turning to private sources for campaign funds?
An answer could be provided by the ancient Greek god named Ananke. He was the God of Necessity, and when he entered the room all the other gods bowed down before him. Dean and Kerry are not acting out of choice but out of “necessity.” If they accepted federal funding, the total amount they could spend in their campaigns would be limited to what they got from Uncle Sam. Dean and Kerry know that their opponent, President Bush, who rejected federal funding in 2000 and is expected to do the same in 2004, will not be so restricted. In the last presidential election, Bush raised from private sources many millions of dollars more than he would have been able to acquire if he had accepted federal funding. He intends to do the same thing again.
For Dean and Kerry to tie their hands by accepting federal funding would mean that they could come nowhere near matching Bush’s expenditures.
So, the two Democrats are doing what they feel they have to do to match Bush’s monetary might in the election.
One needs no crystal ball to see what lies ahead. In effect, the highly hailed reform to finance presidential campaigns with federal funds is on its way to history’s dump heap. And that dos not augur well for America’s democracy. When endless sums of money can be used in a campaign, it is inevitable that, subtly and not so subtly, our democracy will be, despite elections and all that, turned into a plutocracy — government by the wealthy. As the old saw says, “He who pays the piper calls the tune.”
This does not mean that the candidate with the most money is the guaranteed winner in any given election. There are, of course, numerous exceptions. But the “money, money, money that makes the world go round” does often turn an election around.
So can anything be done about this? The answer is yes.
All that is needed is a slight amendment to the present law on federal financing. The law can and should be amended to provide candidates with a set sum from the U.S. Treasury. All other sources of funding would be outlawed. That should put all candidates on an equal financial footing.
No doubt, this proposed change will be challenged as “unconstitutional” on the grounds that it interferes with “freedom of speech.” In an earlier case, the high court, in a divided decision, did hold that a law limiting expenditures in races for House and Senate seats was an unconstitutional abridgment of free speech.
Actually, the opposite is true. If two candidates come to the public market place to address the people and one is armed with nothing but his voice and the other is armed with a loudspeaker system that drowns out every voice within heating, one party is, in effect, denying freedom of speech to the other.