Campaign Reform 'Maniacs'
Won't Revive Progressive Agenda

Regarding your editorial "Crocs in the Creek" April 1998: The selective quotes from Senator Mitch McConnell in order to depict him as insensitive to the plight of under-represented non-wealthy political participants while he leads the fight in the U.S. Senate to protect the First Amendment sadly obscures the validity of his arguments. Indeed he should be praised in these pages for standing up to the reform maniacs and for the thus far un-amended Bill of Rights.

Gene McCarthy in discussions on this subject has said, "you would not limit freedom of the press to a certain number of words permitted in print, nor should you have campaign equality monitors out there detecting whenever one candidate becomes more effective in delivering the campaign message to the voter over another then making an equality adjustment. If one candidate is recognized as having a greater effect in articulating a message do you limit that candidate's number of words? Should you cut a fast talker's time down in a timed debate because he gets in a few more words than a slower speaker? If one candidate is less easy on the eyes and ears than another do you require identical face masks and voice distortion devices in order to obscure the inequalities? How about for the purification of these clean campaigns requiring all meetings between a candidate and supporter to have the supporters wear the same masks and voice alteration, so none will have any special influence?"

Gene McCarthy has also made the point -- seemingly lost on reformers -- that anyone who was opposed to the war in Vietnam upon reflection should recognize it is a danger to put into the hands of the government the control and operation of dissident views in the electoral process. He quotes Hannah Arendt that when the government controls and finances the process by which the government is selected, it creates a totalitarian circuit.

The Bill of Right's first amendment to the U.S. Constitution was the greatest campaign reform ever enacted. This amendment established freedom of speech, at the time it was thought of as political speech. Most campaign finance reform proposals supported by Common Cause, Public Citizen, Ellen Miller's Public Campaign etc. call for changing the Bill of Rights either through an actual amendment to the Constitution or by getting a Supreme Court to re-interpret the Buckley v. Valeo decision to say the right to spend money for political purposes is a right which can be limited and controlled by the Government.

It was noted by Curtis Gans, director of the Study for the American Electorate, in an article last year that Social Security, Medicare, and all of the major social legislation of this century were enacted before we had federal control of campaign finance. What we had were political campaigns which engaged the citizenry, mobilized political organizations, and a deliberative process which gained the public support enacting civil and voting rights, and environmental legislation and oversight.

Ever since George McGovern lost 49 states to Nixon, the liberals have been distracted and fixated on the money-in-politics rather than the failure to win the hearts and minds of the American voter. If we can't beat Reagan, we limit his wealthy supporter's right to fund his campaigns. Wealthy people contributed money, time, and resources to Eugene McCarthy's Presidential campaign in 1968 because of their opposition to the war in Vietnam and Lyndon Johnson's renomination. Most social justice movements had the support of wealthy donors. The idea limits on contributions and spending is a panacea for poor political operations and poorly run, dull campaigns is a misplaced priority. Again, in your pages, Gene McCarthy noted the reformers of Common Cause, if given the opportunity to sit-in on the drafting of the American Declaration of Independence, would have altered the call of 'we pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor' to 'we pledge our lives, our sacred honor, and up to but not to exceed $1,000.00' as an appropriate demonstration of commitment.

As you argue letting go of the free speech aspect of campaign reform and concentrating on the bribing of campaigns to raise and spend less money by offering free or reduced TV time and public funding, you fail to recognize the decision of who gets the time and money is often given to an assortment of party and media officials who in 1992 excluded candidate Eugene McCarthy from participating in debates with Tsongas, Harkin, Brown and Clinton. In 1996 the Presidential Debate Committee (lauded by Senator McCain as an acceptable model) excluded Ross Perot and Ralph Nader from the TV Debate bestowed legitimacy. Placing the quasi-official oligarchy of the media, the government and the major political parties in charge of our "free and fair election" objectives severely limits our democratic vitality.

Campaign finance reforms will not help us win a shorter work week with full employment at higher wages. If you are interested in alternatives for re-invigorating our political system please feel free to contact. me.

2208 S. Fir Ave.
Broken Arrow, OK 74012

Editor Replies:
We respect your opinion, as well as that of former Senator McCarthy, but we believe the quotes from Senator McConnell fairly summarize his position, which is much less a defense of the First Amendment than a defense of the financial advantage of the business lobby. We would not amend the First Amendment and the Clean Money bill introduced last year in the Senate by Democrats John Kerry and Paul Wellstone, along with a companion House bill by Rep. John F. Tierney (D-MA), were designed to withstand constitutional scrutiny. They would provide public funding and free broadcast media exposure for candidates who qualify for the ballot, either by petition or by a nominal fundraising threshold, and who voluntarily agree to limit further fundraising. We agree with you that the best way for working people to promote a progressive agenda is to organize at the grassroots, and we can't legislate good looks or silver tongues, but if public funding will allow honest candidates to run for office without being forced to seek bribes, we think it is worth a try.

'Freedom to Farm'

The Wall Street Journal on May 5, 1998, ran a front page story on the fate of the wheat farmers from Montana to Minnesota after the passage of the 1996 Freedom to Farm Act. The free market, global economics, deregulation, and the freedom-to-farm philosophy have been anything but kind to the high plains wheat farmer. Federal wheat subsidies have been reduced to 25 per cent of the pre-1996 level, disaster payments have been eliminated and the price of wheat has declined by 33 per cent since 1996. With farmers free to plant the crop of their choice all over the nation, wheat stocks have been piling up. All this is brought to the high plains by the 1996 Freedom to Farm Act. Other countries have also found that wheat is an easy crop to grow and under the free-trade global economic system of price meltdown, these foreign growers are giving our western farmers a run for the wheat money. Some high plains farmers did change to canola but with only limited success.

There are so many farm auctions in wheat country that auctioneers are run ragged trying to keep up, and one dealer refused to post any more "for sale" signs in his establishment as it was "too depressing." Besides, he said that the local wheat farmers still owe him $380,000 for last year's chemicals. The farmers have largely given up and are selling out and moving to town to other jobs. Land prices have declined from $1000 in 1996 to $850 per acre in 1998.

One North Dakota legislator said that they should have labeled the 1996 Farm Bill the Freedom to Go Broke Bill. North Dakota had so many farmers quit that the state asked for and received a federal retraining grant to reeducate the farmers. The high plains banks are still solvent, but the wheat farmers are throwing in the towel, moving to town, turning out the lights, leaving the land to the wolves, coyotes, and the bankers. Much wheat land will not even be planted this year, for the first time in living memory.

Welcome to the freedom-to-farm land. We told anyone who would listen that it would never work, except for the large land speculator who will now buy up the land at half price and occupy the homesteads of rural America like a feudal colossus. Archer-Daniel-Midland and other such big companies will have a field day on the high plains. All the rural people will have to leave and the schools, churches, and towns will be empty ghost towns.

Meanwhile, back in sin city on the Potomac, inside the Beltway, Senator Lugar, Republican from Indiana, is so busy swatting down proposals to roll back the Freedom to Farm Act that he has no time to dream up other schemes to bankrupt hard-working rural Americans.

645 East Maiden St. Apt 2B
Washington, PA 15301
E Mail lhamilt@cobweb.net

What happened to those dogs?

Just a few quick questions for Carol Countryman about her 4/98 "Tales from East Texas" column. A clearly crazy woman with a van full of "matted" and "dirty" dogs, all yelping and trying to bite her or run away from her, cruising the streets for "any dogs 'a-runnin' loose' in the neighborhood" -- did this woman arouse any suspicions in Ms. Countryman? Did she call the ASPCA or the Humane Society (or anyone else)? Did she check with her neighbors to see if any of their dogs were missing? Just wondering...

Craig Federhen
Kingston, N.H.

Carol Countryman replies:
Hmmm? Where to begin? Did it arouse curiosity? Well, sorta. I suppose I could have checked with my neighbor, Pig Man, to see if he was missing any dogs, but the dead pig hanging from his tree kinda put me off. Of course, on the other side of me is the Republic of Texas militia bunch, and I probably should have gone to see if they were missing any pooches, but, dang, all those guns pointed out the front door make me nervous.

Actually, the police have been called many times on this woman. I'm told that they have finally forced her family to put her in a home. Too bad. She added a lot of local color.

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