Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Corruption is in the Eye of the beholder--Episode II

Corruption is in the eye of the beholder—Episode II

On Monday, Pres. Obama sped quietly in and out of Kabul. As the papers reported his visit, it sounds as if he was there just long enough to give President Hamid Karzai a stern lecture about political corruption in Afghanistan. Was he a little least bit embarrassed after two presidential elections won by questionable methods by George Bush, or after having given up most of his ideas for health reform because the insurance and drug industries managed to get legislators on their sides by spending significant amounts of money?

Campaign finance reform in the United States is an old topic. Congress keeps trying and not getting anywhere. Now the State of Maine has taken the initiative. Candidates running for public office in the state of Maine can get substantial sums of public money for their campaign if they can collect 3250 contributions, none of them larger than five dollars. Candidate who can find that many persons of ordinary means to support them will be given state money and will not be allowed to accept contributions larger than five dollars from private individuals.

In this way, once they reached the threshold of five dollars donations, candidates don't have to worry about fund-raising anymore. More importantly, the private donations candidates receive are each no larger than five dollars. There are no fat cat political contributors, no industries that have great clout when ordinary citizens do not because they don't have large sums of money to give to candidates.

The Maine plan is actually in operation. It models one way in which we could substantially reduce the influence of money interests on our political system.

We can see how deeply corruption is ingrained in our political process by the fact that only one state has managed to eliminate large contributions from the electoral process. While the state of Maine has shown that elections do not need to give exceptional power to the rich, the failure of other states and the federal government to adopt anything like the Maine plan shows that we have no business going around the world criticizing corruption of other governments.