Campaign Finance Reform, NASCAR-style

Maybe you forgot about campaign finance and lobbying reform. The folks on The Hill certainly hope you have. Listening to the occasional talk out of Congress about how they are going to finally reform how they finance their campaigns reminds me of a bunch of inebriated barflies pledging to kick the juice -- someday. Not today, because well you know. But someday.

Forget about it. It's never going to happen.

So I have a solution. Politicians should be treated like NASCAR drivers. I call my idea the NASCONG reform. It's simple and cheap as hell, and could be implemented today.

Here's how it works. NASCAR drivers make no bones about who pays their way. They plaster the names and logos of their top contributors all over themselves and their cars. So, when fans hear a driver talk about how great Goodyear tires are, and there's the Goodyear logo emblazoned on his jacket, they can judge for themselves just how objective or subjective his respect for those tires might actually be.

So, I ask, why should we treat our national politicians any different? After all, they too have sponsors, and the things those sponsors want are a hell of a lot more serious than tires, batteries and 10W-5W0 oil.

So here's my idea. When quoting or covering a member of Congress, print, broadcast and internet media should not only tell us what state and party the pol represents but also his/her top five contributors.

Think about it. What's the first thing you look for when you see a politician quoted in an article or on the news? You look to see if his/her name is followed by a "D" or and "R." Why? Because that little piece of information speaks volumes about where that pol is "coming from." The next thing I look for is the part of the country they come from, for the same reason. Two pieces of critical information that no paper or TV station would dream of omitting. If so, why then don't they also include the names of the top contributors who paid their way into office in the first place? Is that information less important to voters than his/her party or state? No. In fact it is probably more important than either.

This one simple act would virtually overnight change how everyone involved in the democratic process reacts, behaves and votes.

Voters could listen to a member's stated position (or lack thereof) on a given issue, glance down at the caption below the photo or screen graphic below him/her, then balance their views with the contributors to whom he/she is most beholding. Informed voters are always smarter voters.

Contributors: Companies and trade associations like good publicity, but they hate bad publicity or controversy. By giving so much to a candidate, they run the risk of being included in the dreaded Top Five, thereby having their company brand virtually tattooed on that politician's forehead for the next two or six years. What if the guy pulls a Randy Cunningham/Alan Mollohan on them? Buying political clout is one thing, but being tied to a crooked pol is not what companies have in mind. Therefore, under my plan, companies would throttle back on their giving in an effort NOT to become one of the top five contributors to anyone's campaign. Since they wouldn't know until too late what other companies contributed, they would contribute much less than they would have otherwise in the hope of avoiding that kind of risky exposure. Fear is a change factor here.

Politicians: The good news is that, contrary to popular opinion, most politicians are not entirely shameless. They rationalize what they have to do for the money, telling themselves that they really can take the big bucks and still vote against the interests of top contributors. But that rational frays badly when voters know who paid for his/her trip to Congress. If pols knew that that information was going to appear right under their puss every time they made it on the news, they could no longer be quite so sanguine about pimping for a big contributor. Shame is the motivator in this case. If a pol REALLY believes in a bill that would also benefit one of his/her top contributors, they will have to come to voters with facts … verifiable facts … that support his position. Good politicians are good educators and good leaders. This idea would force them to become both.

This is an idea whose time has come. And it's easy. The hard work has already been done for the media. All they have to do before putting a member of Congress' puss in their publication or on the screen is go to and copy down the top five contributors to that member's last campaign.

That's all there is too it. Campaign finance reform, just that easy.

Republicans won't be able to complain about it because their (phony) position has always been that limits on contributions are unconsitutional, and that the best way to reform the system is "full disclosure." Of course this would be a whole lot more "full disclosure" than they had in mind.

Democrats decided in the 1980s that if they couldn't beat Republican corporate whores, they might as well join them. But Dems still like to talk the talk about how corporate money corrupts the system. So they too would have a tough time objecting to this "Who's your daddy?" openness.

If they did object -- and some will -- the media's response would be simple to defend:

"Well senator, if the information is wrong, we'll correct it immediately.

"No, it's not wrong, it's just, well … unnecessary. I mean, what are you trying to imply putting those company names next to mine, anyway?

"Senator, we're not trying to imply anything. We are just doing what we've always done by noting your party affiliation and state -- orient the reader. You got a problem with that?"

Bam! There is no (sane/nonsleazy) rebuttal to that logic. And any member who bellyaches too loudly about it would open himself or herself to even closer scrutiny. And believe me, there are not many on The Hill who would want to invite that kind of scrutiny. Because just behind the top five contributors are the top 10, top 20, top 50 and so on.

But never mind whether they like it or not. The real beauty of my NASCONG idea is that we don't need a single vote or presidental signature to implement this reform. All we have to do is -- just start doing it.

So, beginning today any time I mention a member of Congress, I will include not only the state they represent and the party to which they belong, but the top five contributors to their last campaign.

Imagine if we could get CNN, MSNBC, FOX CBS, ABC and the rest of the media to do the same.

Of course we may have a problem getting many of the MSM on board with this idea:

Six huge corporations now control the major U.S. media: Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. (FOX, HarperCollins, New York Post, Weekly Standard, TV Guide, DirecTV and 35 TV stations), General Electric (NBC, CNBC, MSNBC, Telemundo, Bravo, Universal Pictures and 28 TV stations), Time Warner (AOL, CNN, Warner Bros., Time and its 130-plus magazines), Disney (ABC, Disney Channel, ESPN, 10 TV and 72 radio stations), Viacom (CBS, MTV, Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures, Simon & Schuster and 183 U.S. radio stations), and Bertelsmann (Random House and its more than 120 imprints worldwide, and Gruner + Jahr and its more than 110 magazines in 10 countries).
[Editor's Note: Peter Scheer of the California First Amendment Coalition and Jim Hightower of the Hightower Lowdown, offer two similar takes on this topic.]

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