Mushy Money

Last November Americans went to the polls in the ultimate off-year election. The only major races were the governorships of Virginia and New Jersey. Cynical critics claim that today’s elections go, not necessarily to the fittest, but to the richest—and headlines after last fall’s elections appeared to prove them right. Virginia’s governorship went to Republican James Gilmore, who spent more money than any gubernatorial candidate in Virginia history, outspending rival Don Beyer by millions of dollars. In New Jersey, the election went to Christine Todd Whitman, who outspent her Democratic rival, James McGreevey, by a huge margin. Is anyone besides me bothered by this? Has the political process really been sold to those who can raise the most money? At the heart of the American experiment in self-government is the idea that while we give to certain people the power to govern us, they govern only with our consent. This is one reason America is the most successful experiment in government in history. But I believe that the experiment is now in peril. The campaign finance hearings were a charade—pure showmanship. They exposed campaign horrors that frankly would have shocked me even in my pre-conversion Watergate days. But people have heard so many horror stories that they’ve lost their sense of outrage. The time has come for genuine reform, or I fear that the American experiment will not remain viable. Is there a way to finance political campaigns without hanging "For Sale" signs in front of the White House and the Capitol? Yes. Money bought out the system, so we must get the money out of it. Because of the First Amendment, we cannot limit how much money candidates raise and spend in a campaign. But we can ask that candidates voluntarily refuse to accept special-interest money. We can allow each candidate a certain amount of money per voter in his state and give him free television time. If candidates choose not to accept this deal, then they’re free to raise their own funds. But at least voters can decide if they want to support the candidate who took the tainted funds—or vote for the candidate who did not. My hunch is that the public would receive a jolt of new confidence in the system, and vote for the clean candidates. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the cynics are right when they say that the politician who takes the tainted money will win. But I have faith that the American people would consistently vote for candidates who refuse to sell their office to the highest bidder. Maybe this is one case where the impetus for reform must come from the church. The church will have to say that the campaign system is scandalous, and we’re not going to take it any longer. We have to hold politicians accountable to the moral standards God has given for the righteous leadership of a people. We must demand that all candidates give up special-interest money—even if it hurts candidates we favor. Elections should not go to the candidates who raise the most money. They can and must be won by those who believe that America really should be, as Lincoln put it, a government by and for and of the people.


Chuck Colson


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