There’s got to be a better way

Jamakaya, Columnist

As election campaigns reach a fever pitch, voter disgust with political ads and campaign spending is soaring. Since the U.S. Supreme Court lifted restrictions on the amount of money private individuals and corporations can funnel through interest groups to influence elections, billions will be spent to buy our government and dictate its priorities this year and in the presidential election of 2016.

The justices who made the Citizens United decision in 2010 said that First Amendment free speech rights trumped concerns about political corruption, which courts could deal with on an individual basis. They evinced little consciousness or care about financial inequality in the United States, assuming a level playing field that would be fair to all interest groups. That’s hardly the case.

The media plays a problematic role too. There are few critiques of the system in the mainstream media, which profit enormously from political ads and which, as large corporate entities, lobby for their own interests. 

For instance, the Federal Communications Commission is set to issue new regulations that may limit “net neutrality,” which currently allows everyone equal access to all content on the Internet. Comcast and Verizon are among the companies wanting to impose controls and squeeze more profits from Internet users. 

It is beyond ironic that corporations that exist and thrive because of the First Amendment have commodified and centralized communication to the extent that they can limit or deny free speech rights to others. 

Besides the glut of political spending and ads, voters have to endure months-long, even years-long campaigns (for president) that often end in fatigue and disillusion. 

There are better ways. Many countries run more efficient and thrifty campaigns. France is one example. France limits campaign spending to just 20 million euros (about $25 million) in its presidential campaigns, with 50 percent of that provided through public funding. Primary and general elections are held within one month. TV ads are forbidden but candidates are given time to speak and debate on public TV. All French citizens are automatically registered to vote at age 18 and elections are held on weekends.

The result of these enlightened regulations in France included voter turnout of 81 percent in the 2012 presidential election, compared to 57 percent in the United States. Unlike the rigid two-party system in the United States, France boasts a vibrant multi-party system which offers real policy alternatives and requires coalition and compromise. The current president Francois Hollande represents the center-left Socialist Party but other parties include the Union for a Popular Movement (center-right), National Front (far-right), Democratic Movement (center), Green Party (left-environmentalist) and Communist (far-left).

It’s unlikely we’d ever emulate the French and hard to see how our entrenched system of exhausting campaigns and obscene expenditures will change. We’re Americans, after all, famed for doing things Big and Dumb. 

In more immediate terms, the U.S. Supreme Court’s stay of Wisconsin’s restrictive voter ID law was a good sign that the law will be carefully reconsidered. Although it offers a reprieve for the November election, the decision means that education and registration efforts should proceed in the event voter ID is sustained.

Mary Burke came off well in the gubernatorial debate with Scott Walker. Her TV ads are rather bland, so I liked seeing that she was sharp and even punchy. Attorney General candidate Susan Happ is beyond punchy; she kicks ass! 

I’m weary of the system, but I look forward to voting for these dynamic women who promise new leadership to Wisconsin.