Paul Jacob

If everybody says it, it must be true, right?

Money in politics is bad. Capital-B, Capital-A, Capital-D, BAD!

The judgment can be stated above the level of a high-school cheer, of course. Here's Common Cause's summary:

The dominating influence of wealthy special interests in the funding of campaigns has eroded public trust in our political system and discouraged political participation. In a system that gives undue access to lawmakers and influence on legislation to those who contribute large amounts to campaigns, most citizens believe their voice is not being heard.

Why, to begin with, is there money in politics?

Two reasons: we have something like a democracy, and our government meddles in nearly everything.

So what to do?

We could just limit the purview of government, and the money issue would peter out — after all, "paying Paul" would no longer be policy. If we brought back constitutional limits, and added some new ones, then there'd be scant incentive to invest in politicians to . . . do things they really shouldn't be doing anyway.

But a lot of people want anything but the Constitution, so that idea gets nixed. Politicians like the power that comes from spending gobs of other people's money, and many interest groups as well as citizens welcome being bought.

That's why politicians tend to prefer their own solution: socialized elections.

They refer to it as "publicly funded elections," though it would be more accurate to use such phrases as "government-funded" or "taxpayer-funded." They call it "clean money," as if taking money from taxpayers and doling it out to certain politicians is next to godliness. But whatever you call it, the idea is clear: make everybody pay for the campaigns of certain approved candidates. All for one, one for all — except that in practice it means, "all for a few, a few for themselves."

It could work, sorta. Socialism can't run a whole consumer-oriented economy (can you say "stagnation"? can you mind your queues?), but socialism can run certain things, like a singular government enterprise. Making everybody pay for one project, and having that project run according to strict rules, or the agreed goals of a few people . . . hey, it might work. Armies run along non-market lines. Why can't we run an election like we run an army?

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.