Time to get serious about public campaign financing

So a federal judge has upheld the constitutionality of Vermont’s public financing law. Too bad he couldn’t rule on the ridiculousness of the law, because that decision would have gone very differently.

In the wake of his ruling, two things have to be addressed ASAP. First, the absurdly punitive $72,000 fine imposed on Dean Corren for a piddly-ass technical violation of the law. Imposed by that self-righteous hypocrite, Our Eternal General Bill Sorrell.

There is no way in Hell that Corren should have to imperil his personal finances because the Democratic Party included him in an e-mail message. The value of that “impermissible contribution”? $255, if I remember correctly.

Fining a guy $72,000 for what was, at most, a petty violation is like sending a guy to jail for not feeding the parking meter. It mocks the very concept of justice.

Okay, that’s number one, and I don’t care how we do it. If it involves a sock full of quarters applied to Sorrell’s noggin and a bit of backroom “persuasion,” so be it. Well, maybe the Darn Tough Convincer is a bit much; let’s just tase him. (He shouldn’t mind; given his record on police brutality cases, he must think getting tased is no big deal.)

The second issue is the public financing law itself. It’s a joke. It’s so restrictive that it seems designed to prevent candidates from using it.

Look: Candidates have to wait until mid-February to launch campaigns. Once they launch, they have to round up a lot of small contributions from every part of the state in a small amount of time.

And then, if they qualify, they get kinda-sorta enough money to compete. And they have to be so careful about violating the “impermissible contribution” standards that it’s basically like tiptoeing through a minefield.

Here’s the real question. Do we seriously want a public financing system that works? Do we want a system that encourages underfunded candidates, and helps balance the scales against big-money politics?

If we do, then the law needs a complete rewrite. Increase the available funds. Make it easier to qualify. Clarify the restrictions on contributions or outside help, and the penalties for violating the terms.

Otherwise, we might as well not offer public financing at all.

You want my sneaking suspicion? I don’t think legislative Democrats want a fairer system. After all, the primary beneficiaries are likely to be (a) Progressives or (b) outsider candidates. The Dems have the best of the current system — at least until the outside Republican money gets to be overwhelming.

It’s too late to reform public financing in this session. But in 2017, let’s see a serious reform bill — or let’s just repeal the current mess and stop pretending we care.

5 thoughts on “Time to get serious about public campaign financing

  1. Fred Crowley (Vershire)

    John, I like your blog and point of view…but you occasionally get carried away. The latest example is the following about our Eternal General, viz: “…I don’t care how we do it. If it involves a sock full of quarters applied to Sorrell’s noggin and a bit of backroom ‘persuasion,’ so be it.”

    You do know, of course, the effect of Trump’s statement, “I’d like to punch him (a protester) in the face”. Only a few rallies later one of his supporters did just that, sucker punch a protester.

    Please reconsider the cumulative effect on the “body politic” such statements of violence have, from whatever side of the spectrum they may come.

  2. Fred Crowley (Vershire)

    You wrote re Sorrell: I don’t care how we do it. If it involves a sock full of quarters applied to Sorrell’s noggin and a bit of backroom ‘persuasion,’ so be it.”
    When I commented about your similarity to Trump’s call for for thuggish intervention you wrote: I knew somebody would complain about that when I wrote it.
    My comment is: Oh come on John, then why did you write it? Your reference re resorting to violence to settle a public discussion is no better than Trump’s incitement to sucker punch protesters. I hope you are better than that! Please turn away from pandering to this anti-social imagery. Your blog is full of facts…don’t dilute it with easily discredited rant.

  3. Walter Carpenter

    We really do need to reform our system of financing campaigns to make it so that the candidates running do not have to constantly be begging for money. As a writer named Wendell Potter put it in a book of his that came out recently, we are a “Nation on the Take.” I know this is a vast fantasy in the age of citizens united, where at least one half of our political system has been bought by the Koch brothers and their ilk, all but turning us into an oligarchy, and the other half is constantly looking for contributions to keep up, but if we want any vestige of a democracy we have to do it.


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