Wednesday, November 09, 2005

How to Campaign & Win - Without Big Money! ...

Lots of discussion on what Tuesday's election meant for an embattled Bush, nervous Republicans and cautious Democrats all keeping their eye on the Congressional mid-terms come 2006. Tim Kain (D) beats Jerry Kilgore (R) in Virginia days after a Presidential visit on behalf of the dissed Republican candidate and, suddenly, conservative columnist Bob Novak is even writing in the Chicago Sun Times:

"The antidote to avoid that fate is to keep as far away from President Bush as possible, a lesson underlined by the president's failed election rescue mission for former Virginia state Attorney General Kilgore. The consequences may be profound. As his approval rating dipped, Bush increasingly has been treated in Congress as a lame duck. Tuesday's Virginia outcome increases the propensity of Republican senators and House members not only to avoid their president on the campaign trail but also to ignore his legislative proposals."

And, there are other Republican disappointments in key states: a Gubernatorial win in New Jersey after a nasty, unnecessarily personal race; and Gov. Schwarzenegger getting his referendums shot down in California (which, we hope, will gradually deflate the underground movement to restructure the Constitution so the Austrian-born box office hitter can run for President).

Lots of discussions about what this bodes for 2006 - will there be a changing of the House and Senate guards? But, this doesn't really concern us as much as the money that is flowing through these campaigns and what this means for the future of modern American democracy. Is it really democracy? Or, is it the cigar smoke filled poker room where only businessmen and lawyers flaunting money clips like well-dressed thugs and hustlers can roam? Is it a body politic for and by the people? Or, has it become a personal golf course where cats similarly dressed and groomed measure egos on public platforms?

In Virginia, $42 million in gubernatorial campaign spending (and still counting) has topped state records. The Jersey governor's race was like a scene from The Sopranos, where two extremely rich businessmen ripped each other's throats at the ching-ching of $70 million. In New York, billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg spends close to almost breaking the $75 million record he set in his 2001 bid.

Reports on the funding in state races:

"The biggest spender, Republican Steve Poizner, pitched in $5.9 million himself to compile a $6.65 million campaign war chest, outspent his opponent more than 3-to-1 and still lost his 2004 race for an open seat in the California State Assembly. Undeterred, he's already announced he's running in 2006 for state insurance commisioner. Of five Californians in the top 10, three lost their races.Legislative leaders with easy races in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Texas also showed up as top fund-raisers in an analysis of campaign contribution data collected by the Institute on Money in State Politics. Pennsylvania House Speaker John Perzel (R) raised $4.6 million last year but gave $1.9 million to fellow candidates and a state political action committee. He still captured nearly 75 percent of the November vote. "

An ugly theme constantly resurrects itself in modern American elections: only big money can win you a chance to participate in the process. The average cat on the street who wants to run for office is benched since passion and true advocacy can hardly compensate for empty pockets.
And fuh-get about it if you made some bad turns or judgements in a past life - which is pretty much all of us homo sapiens. Basically, the lesson here: only money can get you a skeleton cleaner. No cheddar? Don't bother if you don't want your dirty laundry aired. But, money can buy you all the clean reputation you want ...

Kudos to CNN analyst Jeff Greenfield for raising it briefly during a recent broadcast of The Situation Room. Does it surprise us that there is little follow up?

Here's an idea for a New York Times bestseller: "Creative Ways to Campaign and Win Without Deep Pockets: How You Can Reclaim Democracy."