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(DV) Petersen: Money Trumps Democracy







Money Trumps Democracy 
by Kim Petersen
January 29, 2007

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The New York Times states "public financing system for presidential campaigns . . . the best way to rid politics of the corrupting influence of money, may have quietly died over the weekend." [1] The NYT's examination of the public financing of politics is, in fact, an inquiry into the nature of so-called democracy.

Eschewing the constraints of public funding, Senator Hillary Clinton of New York has opted for private funding for her presidential bid. The NYT calls this a declaration of Clinton's confidence that she can attract much more than the approximately $150 million that would be provided through public financing.

Importantly, the NYT notes, "Mrs. Clinton makes it difficult for other serious candidates to participate in the system without putting themselves at a significant disadvantage."

Clinton is not the first to go after private funding and she will not be the last as long as the present funding scenario exists.

The NYT quotes Michael E. Toner, an official of the Federal Election Commission, who outlined a requirement for a "serious candidate" in 2007: "We are looking at a $100 million entry fee."

This raises some questions. Is it the amount of money that determines the quality of leadership? Did the fact that George W. Bush raised the greatest amount of campaign cash translate into him being the best leader?

Public financing was supposedly introduced as a means to clean up money politics and remove the burden of obligation to campaign financers.

The old canard runs that curbing one candidate's campaign spending impinges upon his or her right to spend their money. This right to spend money on political campaigns is protected by the First Amendment. In other words, the individual's rights to financially promote herself over other candidates trumps the public's right to an equality of access to all candidates and candidate platforms.

No one will dispute that money helps to promote a candidate and her ideas. A candidate devoid of cash will be hindered in making known his candidacy and his ideas. What the First Amendment is actually protecting is the right to buy elections. Hence, in this respect, the First Amendment is anti-democratic, as is the decision by Hillary Clinton to try and gain a monetary advantage over her competitors -- an advantage many of Clinton's would-be competitors would likeliest try to gain against her. This makes Clinton an anti-democratic Democrat and her competitors anti-democratic.

After all, what kind of democracy is it when it is inordinately determined by money, when money can trump ideas? Is this system really worthy of being called democracy?

Kim Petersen, Co-Editor of Dissident Voice, lives in southern Korea. He can be reached at: kim@dissidentvoice.org


[1] David K. Kirpatrick, "Death Knell May Be Near for Public Election Funds," New York Times, 23 January 2007.

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