A good business weighs each action in terms of its impact on the bottom line. Every product concept, engineering design, marketing plan – virtually every agenda item of every meeting is focused on the ultimate goal. The success of this intense, American-style capitalism accounts in large part for the relatively affluent lifestyles we enjoy. Most of us, in fact, count on the basic instincts of free-market capitalism to deliver bountiful financial returns for retirement or pay for the next vacation.
But corporations, vital as they are to the American way of life, are neither moral nor necessarily patriotic entities. Their focus is narrow. And the path taken to profit is guided only by the boundaries we as a society choose to establish.
When corporations invest in political campaigns, it is because of the anticipated return on that investment. And when a candidate for office accepts a large sum from a corporate PAC he or she does so knowing what is expected. And this arrangement is perfectly legal. Now is the time for taxpayers to chase the money changers from the steps of the Capitol.
Thomas Jefferson and John Adams often disagreed but they nonetheless maintained an open dialog on the philosophy of government. On October 8, 1813 Jefferson wrote a letter to Adams since entitled "The Natural Aristocrat." In his note he differentiates the "natural aristocrat", defined by "virtue and talent" from the "artificial aristocrat", defined by wealth and birth. He goes on to make the case that "that form of government is the best which provides the most effectually for a pure selection of the natural aristocrat into the offices of government".
Clearly Jefferson sought a way to attract the "best and brightest" into elected office. (Isn't this exactly how all enterprises attempt to staff positions of high responsibility?). The decisions made by our representatives in Albany are critical to the future health and prosperity of the entire State's population. We want our leaders to be the best and brightest but the fundraising required by our current electoral process discourages most from participation in government. We need a Clean Elections law passed this session. Eliminating the drudgery of the money chase and simultaneously breaking the bonds between moneyed special interests and government would be huge steps towards making Jefferson's vision a reality in New York State.
Finally, I submit a short list of “must have” features of a Clean Elections system:
- Candidate qualification must be based on a measure of popular support, not fundraising ability
- Public monies awarded must be sufficient to run a competitive campaign.
- The candidate accepting public funding must be shielded by the law from indebtedness to special interests and therefore accountable only to the voting public.