Campaign Finance Reform, Ballot Access and the Pennsylvania Legislature
This past week I stopped for a quick sandwich at my neighborhood bar and restaurant and the conversation quickly turned to politics as it always does when the owner is working and I stop in. Over the years many have got to know my political leanings, and it is not uncommon to be referred to as “Libertarian Lou.”
“What would you do to fix this problem?” is often asked before the first bite into the sandwich is ever made and this time was no different. With so many issues in American life today there is never a shortage of topics for sure, but after the usual complaints about school taxes and the worsening state of our education system, the subject quickly turned to campaign finance reform as a way to fix the corruption, nepotism, and cronyism we find so prevalent in our current political system.
First I need to take a quick shot at the Department of Education. Would it not make more sense to have 50 incubators of innovation or more rather than just one? If you want to fix the education problem, start with the federal government—get rid of the Department of Education! Seems to make sense to me, but that is a topic for another time in the near future.
This month’s topic is campaign finance reform, the size of the legislature, and ballot access. The key is how they interconnect and what we can do to fix the problem.
I listened as a solution to getting corruption out of our elections was put forth, the public financing of our elections. Each candidate would get so much state money to run their campaigns, while being allotted a certain amount of radio and TV time. Simple! I quietly shook my head and finished my lunch knowing it would not be long before the real debate was to begin.
“So what are you shaking your head for, not a good solution?” “Nope,” I say. First off, it would be unconstitutional (not that it really matters these days, my being a little sarcastic). But it is the truth. The only thing accomplished by limiting one’s voice is empowering those in power even more so. It has not, and will not work, at least to fixing the problem we all want to eliminate. That would be getting corruption out of politics the best we can. But my answer is not a solution, just a rebuttal. So what would I do as an American if I had my way?
To begin, I would make sure our ballot access laws were free and equal. Did you know that Pennsylvania has one of the most restrictive ballot access laws in the country? Bet you didn’t! In 1975, the United States and European nations signed the Helsinki Accords to afford human rights around the world. In 1990 it was expanded to political rights, and in 2007 the same group issued a statement singling out Pennsylvania for excessive ballot access requirements. Bet you didn’t know that either. Wonder what they would say now that economic intimidation is being used by the two old parties. A shameful and profoundly un-American tactic that we all should be disgusted with and hopefully will not tolerate much longer.
So how does this all play into political corruption, nepotism, and cronyism? Competition, that’s how or lack of it. Not until we put competition back into our politics will anything ever change. At least in my opinion. We look to competition in the private sector to spur innovation, development and new ideas. We look to competition in the private sector to keep prices low. If you only had Coke and Pepsi to choose from, I bet it would be more expensive to buy Coke and Pepsi.
The same goes with our political system. Our representatives no longer represent us but represent their parties, and their parties have been bought and sold by special interests. You know it, I know it, we all know it. Washington has become a barrel of rotten apples, and to think we can take a few rotten ones out now and then, and replace them with a few good ones to get rid of the stench is flawed thinking I believe.
If you live in Pennsylvania, the Voter Choice Act has been introduced by Senator Fuller to the Pennsylvania Senate as State Bill 21. This will help level the playing field. If you want to see some real change call your representative and have him or her not just sign on as a co-sponsor, but make sure it gets out of committee. That would be a great start. Remember this, if any one of our representatives are afraid to compete in the arena of ideas, and look to keep people from the ballot, I can assure you they are not looking out for your best interest but looking out for theirs, and I believe that to be a fact.
Very often the Libertarian viewpoint that a ‘limited government is the best government’ is confused with smaller government. Not always the case. What we seek is government to have less of a role in our lives, not more. Once again, most often a smaller government does just the opposite. Centralizing power in the hands of a few is not the answer, so in my opinion I would not reduce the size of Pennsylvania’s legislature, I would increase it. Recently I had the opportunity to attend some town hall meetings in New Hampshire and observed a different type of governance. Did you know the New Hampshire House of Representatives is the third-largest parliamentary body in the English speaking world? Only the U.S. Congress and Britain’s Parliament are larger. Bet you didn’t know that. Do you know the second largest state legislature in the nation? You got it, Pennsylvania. So what are the differences and how can this have an effect on that corruption in politics we all talk about?
First off New Hampshire’s legislature is part time. Pennsylvania is full time. Each New Hampshire legislator represents about 3,300 residents. This is an important fact and I will touch on it in a moment. And now the salary, $100.00 per year. For New Hampshire legislators that is, didn’t want you to confuse it with Pennsylvania’s average of $78,314.00, making it the costliest legislature per capita in the United States. I wonder if that sum has figured in the perks, per diems, and special privileges that our legislators expect? Forgot to add in the politicians’ mantra, “We are running to serve the public and represent our communities and constituents.” Really?
So if I had a magic wand, what would I do? Certainly not reduce the size of the legislature as I have heard some recently saying. Nope, not me. I would double it, salary would be $100.00 dollars, and it would be part time. I know, but one could dream, yes? But if that dream was for real and we as a people demanded it, what would that accomplish? For one, it would truly reduce the influence money had in elections. Remember that 3,300 figure. Just imagine if one could actually walk door to door to all your constituents. Just imagine if the voters actually knew the state legislator they were voting for, and not make a decision based on a 30 second sound bite. Grassroots campaigns would be much more productive, greatly reducing the money needed to run effective campaigns, which would in turn reduce the corruption we have in politics today.
If you want good government, then reduce the influence politicians have over us. Remember, the bigger government gets the more favors it can grant. When it is cheaper for corporations to legislate their competition out of business rather than building the better mousetrap, we all suffer—individually and as a nation. The answer for better government is the same as in the private sector. Competition! Competition! Competition!
You can sign a petition to help Independents get on the ballot this November and Register to Vote at our offices located at 253 South Main, Wilkes-Barre. Stop in and say hello.