Friday, June 19, 2009

Campaign Finance Reform and Unintended Consequences

The Governor's Commission on Strengthening Democracy met yesterday and we are now getting down to the nitty gritty. To this point, the commission has received presentations from various sources and some citizen input on a number of subjects that relate to elections, lobbyists, campaign finance, etc.

At some point the Commission will be expected to vote on recommendations and proposals to improve our election policies with the idea of Strengthening Democracy, which is to say; "how can we get more people involved in the political process"?

Lavarr Webb made an important point (and one I discussed early on as the commission began meeting) in that Strengthening Democracy does not necessarily equate with greater numbers of participants, but rather should be measured on the increased number of WELL INFORMED participants. Education, Information, Attention to Issues, Thoughtful Consideration of the Facts, all should be a part of truly Strengthening Democracy.

I opined that I believe limiting contributions to campaigns would do more to restrict our first amendment rights of free speech (though my friend and colleague Ken Verdoia clearly disagreed) than strenghten democracy. Rather, I believe that transparency through immediate electronically posting of contributions and rapid and easy access to that information will empower the electorate to make good decisions.

My concern is, as history has shown, everytime we try to limit someones ability to contribute to campaigns we see creative ways to circumvent those rules. It then becomes a shell game that no one can follow. If it is a strictly open process with enforced reporting requirements and immediate and easy access by the public, then all the gamesmanship is gone and the electorate can make their own judgements on why someone or some group gave a certain amount of money to a candidate.

Everytime we enact more restrictive rules we end up with a plethora of unintended consequences. Our federal election laws are rife with abuses because of the attempt to over regulate. On the State level I hope we can resist the temptation to "do good" by telling people how they choose to support their candidates but instead let's make the system so transparent that it is obvious to all what kind of support our candidates receive.

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