Clean Elections and St Louis

While reading Steve Patterson today, I read about the new campaign finance laws (or lack of) for St Louis. Right now, if you are running for alderman, you can only accept individual donations of up to $325 per person or business, or if you are running for a city-wide position, $1275. Those donation limits will be curbed as of January 1, 2007, making unlimited contributions a possibility.
I am against this for several reasons. One, it disenfranchises the everyman from becoming the alderman. You are essentially putting more money into the election process, allowing a person to write his/her own check for their campaign. One great thing about the aldermanic races is that, in many wards, it's a low-turnout election, so grassroots campaigns have a great chance at succeeding. Allowing candidates unlimited donations essentially neutralizes the power of the people and puts the power in the pockets.
Two, having campaign donation limits assures that one person just can't write a check to put a candidate in his/her pocket. As the new rules will stand, theoretically, any one person could write a check that completely funds a candidates campaign and could use that person to his/her advantage or to benefit his/her own personal agenda. Washington is corrupted by political donations. It's the reason our government is so screwed up and so enabling of large corporations: reciprocity is expected or reelection is threatened. One could argue that you can raise the same amount of money using either method, but having donation limits forces a candidate to get funding from several sources, which is more representative of a democracy than getting money from just one source.
Obviously, those in power are not going to give up their power without a struggle. Elected officials will continue to accept campaign funding wherever they can get it, and, as a consequence, will continue to vote in big donors' best interests, not the common people's. People will continue to get fucked, both by big businesses and by the government. I believe there are three solutions:
One, everyone needs to realize that we, as people, do have power. Small groups of committed people are the only thing that have ever changed the world, and to resign ourselves to helplessness is going to ensure than no change occurs. If you feel helpless, do something. Join one of the thousands of local groups that are fighting to change things right now.
Two, mobilize non-voters. So many people who get fucked by government don't vote. If we could mobilize those missing voters to all elections at all levels, by getting them to realize that their vote can make a difference in their lives, major changes can happen. It's easy to feel like you are helpless and that your vote won't really matter, but, especially at the local level, your vote can and does make a difference. You should have to register to vote when you sign up for any type of social services, get your driver's license, or register for the draft. Two elections that impact people in a tangible way on the local level are school board elections and, here in St Louis, alderman elections. Although in smaller municipalities, they may be largely ceremonial positions, they do make real decisions about the workings of cities and schools.
Three, work to change the election system as it exists now. Until money is out of elections and representative government, and elected officials aren't just rich people, with rich friends, primarily representing the interests of the rich, things will continue to be corrupt and we won't have a government that really represents the interests of the people. In the state of Maine, candidates can choose to run as a "clean" candidate after voters passed the "Clean Election Act," which states (from their website) The law was passed by Maine voters in a referendum in 1996 and came into effect in 2000. Candidates who demonstrate citizen support by collecting a set number of $5 qualifying contributions from voters within their districts (50 contributions for a State House race, 150 for the state Senate, and 2,500 for a gubernatorial race) are eligible for fixed and equal campaign funding from the Clean Election Fund. To receive their money, candidates must agree to forgo all private contributions (including self-financing), and limit their spending to the amount from the fund. Participating Clean Money candidates are also given an additional one-for-one match if they are outspent by non-complying opponents or are the target of independent expenditures (such as ads produced by a group not associated with the opposing candidate). Candidates who reject the option of Clean Money or who fail to qualify are still free to collect private money under the existing system.
In the 2004 elections, 71% of candidates chose to run "clean," and over half of "clean" candidates won their elections. Because of clean candidates, Maine passed the Dirigo Health Reform Act, which aims to improve health care quality, expand access to health care, and contain health care costs. Citizens are integral in the process of health care reform, and have been included in planning using a "21st Century Town Meeting" model. This was possible due to candidates being elected by Clean Money. Elected officials are accountable to people, not lobbyists or big donors. They are free to make decisions that have their constituents' best interests in mind, not their biggest donors.
This, I think, is the biggest, most effective change we can enact. Think of how the demographics of candidates would change! People who would never even consider running for office could now run and actually have a chance to win. This is what democracy is supposed to look like.

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