Public elections need public funding In my three...

SATURDAY MAILBOX

July 29, 2000

Public elections need public funding

In my three congressional campaigns (1982, 1984 and 1988) as well as my campaigns for House of Delegates (1986, 1990 and 1998), I consistently took the position that the established political action committees (PACs) were inherently evil, bred corruption and should all be abolished in order to save our precious democracy.

I put my money where my mouth was, neither accepted nor sought any PAC money and financed all my efforts with either my own money or reasonably priced fund-raiser tickets that the average person could afford. My losses in all six races were not because I was under-funded. The candidacies of Ross Perot and Jesse Ventura demonstrated that a growing part of the voting populace is disenchanted with the regime of the two-party system and the television-network arrangement that is deep in their pockets. I would remind the TV moguls that the public, and not they, owns the airwaves. (We can respond at the next Federal Communications Commission hearing if we choose.)

Political campaigns should be financed by a combination of public funds through tax dollars, with contributions limited by laws of Congress and state legislatures.

What is happening now is not what the Founding Fathers had in mind. When Benjamin Franklin emerged from Independence Hall, he was asked, "Well, is it a kingdom or an empire?" He replied, "It's a republic, if you can keep it."

Blaine Taylor

Towson

In a 1999 Harris Poll, only 12 percent of Americans expressed "a great deal of confidence" in our Congress.

A large number of Americans believe that Congress is not addressing the issues that matter to them. Such lack of confidence could be attributed to the way that political campaigns are financed.

The gray area between "soft" and "hard" money further blurs the line. The voters would be better served if campaigns were financed by public funds. Such public funding would force candidates to prioritize their agenda and make their constituents' needs paramount.

Supporters of candidates should be limited in their individual contributions to ensure that the rich do not monopolize the process.

Our brand of democracy requires collective participation from the citizenry to make it meaningfully relevant. When the wealthy class monopolizes the process with massive contributions, either through soft or hard money, it bankrupts the true intent of the process -- which is to uphold the values for which the Revolutionary War was fought.

To make the current system more efficient and responsive to the citizenry, we should consider closing the loophole in campaign contributions.

That loophole allows private donations in the millions of dollars through intermediaries with fuzzy disclosures. The voter needs to know who is bankrolling a candidate's campaign. Such built-in mechanism would give constituents an opportunity to monitor their representative's votes to ensure that he or she is not beholden to one particular special interest.

Solomon I. Omo-Osagie

Baltimore

The purest form of democracy is a direct vote by every citizen on every issue. New England town meetings are a good example, and they still exist today. Our forefathers knew a "one person, one vote" system was most likely to produce open, fair and competitive elections.

Under his democratic system, elected officials are directly responsible to, and only to, those individuals eligible to vote. By contrast, today's expensive political weapons -- TV, polls, consultants -- produce a sinister marketplace for buying and selling elections.

Special interests, deals and extortion by political parties have replaced face-to-face contact and issue-oriented public debate.

Of necessity, politicians now spend more than 50 percent of their time begging for money or shaking down donors who usually aren't constituents. Our laws also allow individuals with enormous wealth, who may or may not be qualified, to invest many millions of dollars of their own money to purchase political power.

Today, somewhere between the voter and the vote on Capitol Hill lies a fund-raising swamp that perverts the legitimate interests of the people for whom the system was created.

Private money should not be part of public elections.

Public funds should be provided, free television should be available, soft money should be tightly regulated or eliminated. Technology should be used to reconnect voters with candidates, issues and a government that's for the people.

R.C. Kostmayer

Baltimore

In addition to the $3 check-off on federal income tax returns, Americans are free to support their Congress with campaign contributions.

Regardless of party affiliation, we all have the opportunity in our democracy to participate in the election process.

Corporations with intentions to influence candidates for future IOUs should fully disclose their contributions, which should be limited. The playing field would be fair, whether we classify campaign financing as "hard" or "soft" money.

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