Elections are Bought, Not Won

By Beacon Staff

Ever wonder why we always elect crooks to political office? One reason might be the way elections are bought. The way we fund our candidates is absolutely criminal.

Here’s one example: A couple of years ago I was researching a zillionaire Californian that donates boodles to Montana environmentalists. I found the Federal Elections Commission alphabetical listing of direct Baucus donors. Listed with John Doe was wife Jane, and son Jimmy, a “student” at San Francisco State. Jimmy was, like Mom and Dadster, maxed out for Max.

Now, folks, you’ve seen Jay Leno’s quiz-on-the-street skits. How many California college kids could ever name Montana’s senior senator, much less know where to send $2,300 of pizza-and-beer money? Oh, Jimmy’s a teetotaling vegan?

It’s better now. The Washington Post reported in October that some donors “Might Be In Diapers,” in this case a 2-year old girl who donated $2,300 to Barack Obama. First we had Obama girl, now Obama baby?

Actually, Obama Baby has a financier uncle who set up a trust for the cousins, complete with a trust administrator fluent in baby talk.

Not only Democratic families play games. Mitt Romney can count at least one 13-year old supporter who donated $2,300 of his bar mitzvah money, with mom explaining, “My children like to donate to a lot of causes.” Snark.

“Student” money isn’t a major factor in political finance, at “only” $1,967,000 so far in the 2008 presidential cycle according to the Center for Responsive Politics. But that is six times the level of “student” giving before the last round of federal “reform,” the so-called McCain-Feingold law.

What about grown-ups? Two weeks ago the Los Angeles Times put up a story about Hillary Clinton’s fundraising success in New York City’s Chinatown. Six reporters couldn’t find all the donors at the listed addresses, places with trash and drunks in the hall, but they found waiters and dishwashers maxing out their $2,300 personal contribution limits. One gentleman who attended a Clinton fundraiser at the suggestion of his neighborhood association said he cut his $1,000 check or “Otherwise I would lose face.” Maybe some kneecaps, too.

Even Montana money funnies have made it into the national news, with the Ninth Circuit Court ruling against Aaron Flint, who got booted from the University of Montana student senate in 2004 because he violated a $100 spending limit. Flint did so in response to anti-Flint posters that went up on the UM campus, apparently the product of University of Montana College Democrats and the liberal Montana Public Interest Research Group. The cute part is that Flint still doesn’t know for sure because whoever made the posters never admitted it, plus neither group is subject to the expenditure limits or reporting requirements anyway.

Dirty secret money games surrounding our ballot initiatives are old hat, as are mystery PACs that pop up just before an election, slaughter a candidate, and then disappear. No wonder the California Voter Foundation graded Montana’s campaign finance reporting system, administered by the Commission on Political Practices, a big fat F. Why? Mainly because donation lists are all hard copy and never available until after the election, too late to matter, except to the lawyers.

I think it’s time to do two things. First, require registry and full disclosure by both candidates and other entities of all donations and expenditures within 24 hours on a secure government Web site. Second, trash donation limits. They don’t work, except to force politicians to spend too much time hooking for money. That’s why they have no time for their real job … working for us.

Dave Skinner lives in Whitefish