Monterey, San Benito, Santa Cruz Counties, CA November 7, 2000 Election
Smart Voter

Campaign Finance Reform

By Scott R. Hartley

Candidate for United States Representative; District 17

This information is provided by the candidate
This is essential to reclaim our government from special interests. Regulating contributions hasn't worked. Let's try focusing on the candidate's responsibility to avoid conflicts of interest.
There's a crime in progress, a crime against democracy. I think we need to do something about it right now.

Campaign finance reform. Everyone says they want it. From the nation's Capital a predictable crew has taken up the matter. They seem to comprise two types: those with good intentions and the wrong idea, and those with bad intentions and no idea. The ballot propositions we Californians recently passed face years of litigation against powerful opponents bolstered by a Supreme Court that associates free speech with the freedom to contribute. For them money talks.

Very recently we have a ray of hope from a decision written by Justice Stevens. He says: money isn't speech, money is property. That should lend support to reformers' efforts in the current effort to control contributors. Eventually we might even gain some limited success. But I think that realistically we need to open a second front if we hope to win. I want to attack the reform issue not from the side of the donors, but rather from the side of the recipients, the public office holders, restricting what they can accept.

My thinking is this: while speech is a basic human right, holding public office is not. You must earn votes, which no one is compelled to cast for you. You must perform the duties of your office to some minimum level of competence and ethical standard, or else forfeit the place. We can set those standards by law. That's my point of attack. Most particularly, I want to focus on the concept of conflict of interest, and I think the strategy must be a ballot initiative.

What does it mean, "conflict of interest"? As Bill Clinton tap dances around the most recent DNC boondoggle, I hear commentators intoning the phrase, "tit for tat," which I take to be a translation of the more stately Latin, "quid pro quo." A great hiding place for scoundrels! Decoded, I believe this means: there's no wrong-doing unless we prove a specific payment bought a specific vote. Nearly impossible. Only worth trying because you can go onward with a bad idea, whereas you can't go anywhere with no idea.

How about a better idea? We define conflict of interest more broadly, recognizing in the most obvious commonsense way, that the sources of anyone's income always and inevitably carry disproportionate influence with the recipient. We further realize that disproportionate influence violates the essential principal of our nation, which says all humans are created equal. Disproportionate influence is a crime against democracy. Conflict of interest must always exist where office holders (or candidates) enjoy special relationships with some constituents based on the transfer of money, because their essential duty is to represent all citizens as equals. Conflict of interest is a crime against the ancient spirit of democracy, and we have every right to declare it so under law and to bar the guilty from taking office.

I believe this approach is simple and direct, in contrast to the awkward, baroque, and thus far unavailing attempts we've made to govern contributors. Apparently it requires some public funding of campaigns, which the public frankly distrusts. But an honest comparison of the costs of campaigns -- which necessity could reduce by 90% or more -- with the cost of abdicating our democracy to corporate PAC's, such a comparison should win most voters over.

To get from where we currently stand, somewhere in the midst of Thomas Jefferson's major nightmare, to where we want to be, calls for some transitional period, which should be built into the legislation, the voter ballot measure. I will soon be providing a draft text of such a law on my website, where I will be available to entertain comments on the idea.

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ca/state Created from information supplied by the candidate: April 13, 2000 16:07
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