Friday, October 16, 2015

Pay to Play

By the time you read this, the Democratic candidates for president will have had their first debate of the current electoral season. The Democrats have 3 debates scheduled in 2015. The Republicans have had 2 debates, and have 3 more scheduled for 2015.

This is very different from the debate schedule for the 2007/2008 presidential primary. In 2007 the Republicans had 15 debates, and then 6 more in 2008. In 2007 the Democrats had 17 debates, and 9 more in 2008. Most of us agreed at the time that there were too many debates.

This time the Republicans may have struck a good balance. The Democrats have not.

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schulz (DWS) is the Chair of the Democratic National Committee. She has decreed that there will be only 6 debates sanctioned by the Democratic Party. Any candidates who might want to slither off and do some debating on the side will be cast out from the officially sanctioned debates if they do. Candidate Lawrence Lessig has been polling at sufficient numbers to meet the 1% threshold for appearing on the debate stage, but DWS refused to allow him to participate.

In 2008, DWS was one of Hillary Clinton’s national campaign co-chairs. In 2015, DWS unilaterally made the decision to limit the number of debates to six, and punish any naughty candidates that debated on the side. It’s difficult to imagine that this decision had nothing to do with her long-time support for Clinton. Even more difficult to fathom is that this decision was made by DWS, with no input from the other members of the DNC, or the DNC executive committee. The rest of the DNC meekly followed along, and didn’t challenge the authoritarian decisions made by Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz.

Hillary Clinton has been the anointed candidate of the Democratic Party for a very long time. Clearly DWS expected no viable candidates to rise up and challenge the anointed one, so she saw no need to schedule a lot of debates. When Bernie Sanders came along and began attracting huge crowds and started rising in the polls, DWS refused to add more debates. She appeared (and still appears) desperate to ensure that Clinton would remain the anointed candidate by ensuring that voters wouldn’t hear the voices of her challengers on the national stage until the last possible moment.

This brilliant strategy also ensured that the Republican debates and the Republican candidates have had control of the media and the issues discussed for months, interrupted only by the occasional story about Hillary’s emails. Lucky for DWS, the mainstream corporate media has no interest in covering Sanders. After all, the corporations that own our media don’t want Sanders anywhere near the White House. He’s not for sale.

Sanders may not be for sale, but our democracy is. In Buckley vs. Valeo, and then again in Citizens United, our Supreme Court has affirmed that money is in fact, speech – and that those who which to purchase a lot of speech should not be thwarted from doing so.

Spurred on by ALEC and other conservative special interest groups, many states have succeeded in enacting bills to limit voter participation. Alabama passed a voter ID law that went into effect last year. This year they closed 31 DMV offices. The shuttered offices are in the counties with the largest black populations, including the 5 counties that most significantly supported Obama for president. Quite a coincidence. 

Nowhere is the lack of concern for the democratic process more apparent than the in the debates. Every debate thus far has been on cable television. Cable – which is accessed through paid subscriptions. CNN live streamed the Democrat’s debate so that people who have access to the Internet were able to watch it. Fox did not livestream the GOP debate, so unless one had cable, one was not able to watch the debate.

Voters should not have to PAY to see debates. The debates should be shown on public and network television, and be broadcast over the radio and the Internet. They should be available to every single voter that wishes to see them. No one should have to PAY for the privilege of viewing what is supposed to be our democracy in action.

This week we learned that 158 families (and the companies they own) have provided about half of the money to fund presidential campaigns so far. They are white and they are wealthy. They’ve made vast fortunes in either finance or energy. They have lots and lots of speech at their disposal, and by gum, they’re going to use it to purchase a president. Of those families/companies, 138 are backing Republicans, and 20 are backing Democrats.

How did we get to this place? This isn’t what I learned in Mr. Dakers 8th grade civics class.

We’re seeing the pernicious influence of big money in all of our elections. In lowly NH state representative races, outside special interests are spending big bucks to ensure that their brand of ideology gets a voice in our legislature. Yvonne Dean-Bailey of Northwood was the recipient of $10,000 in PAC money to win a $100 a year seat in the NH House. Now that buyers know that they can purchase our legislature, the faucet will continue to flow.

It’s called corruption. Whenever special interests purchase a candidate – locally, statewide, or nationally – there is always quid pro quo.

The Roberts court has decreed that the more speech one has in the bank, the louder one’s voice gets to be. You don’t have an account? Sorry – we can’t hear you. What’s in your wallet? Got any speech in there?

Pay to play. What could go wrong?  

This was published as an op-ed in the October 16 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper. 

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