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LETTER: Big money unfairly influences elections

To the Editor:

We love our country; it’s dear to us and should be—it was dearly purchased through revolution and maintained ever since by the sacrifice of patriots. But our government, conceived through the imagination and compromises of the leading politicians of their time, has changed.

Individuals and corporations have found ways to shape government to their benefit. This shouldn’t be a surprise; it’s a human characteristic. We see attempts to circumvent the rules even in our children.

My adult granddaughter interrupted her conversation to admonish my 12- and five-year-old great-grandchildren not to eat snacks while sitting on the couch. My great-granddaughter, already imaginative and showing early promise for a later career as a tax attorney, leaned far forward so that her snacking was actually taking place not on the couch, but over the living room floor.

Her younger brother, just another member of the chorus, immediately joined her in this uncomfortable position, whose concerted purpose was to circumvent their mother’s rule.

If the issue could have been resolved in a courtroom, my great-granddaughter might have prevailed, at least until the rule could be modified to prohibit this specific activity. But her mother’s immediate and final ruling ended the matter and the offensive behavior stopped. However, our government doesn’t have mother-like watchdogs with the authority to stop offensive behavior.

Our government, at its conception, was intended to be fair; it was to be a government of the people.  Individually, we were to be represented by spokespersons of our choice who would speak and vote in our behalf. The theory still lingers, but not the practice.

Those we elect don’t really represent us—they say they do, but they don’t, not really. Their primary interest is reelection. Accordingly, their attention is focused upon persons representing large groups of voters, upon lobbyists representing financial interests and, of course, their own political party.

Since election campaigns are won by politicians able to favorably present both themselves and their message to voters, and because this is most easily accomplished with signs, advertisements, banners, bumper stickers, television messages, etc., and because this is expensive, the greatest influence upon a politician appears to be wielded by those that offer the most money.

We may not want to believe that the politicians we like—and who may also like us—would allow themselves to be unfairly influenced by a large campaign contribution. But many do, and because they do, we cannot have equal government: those able to spend the most money will benefit the most.

This money is offered and described as campaign contributions. Supposedly, it isn’t bribery, and there are probably legions of lawyers able to explain why it isn’t. But by employing the magical properties of money, I’m sure that an equal number of lawyers could be convinced and recruited to explain why it is.

Perhaps it’s just a purchase; one pays money for a service and receives it. Or maybe it is sometimes bribery and sometimes not. There are, I’m sure, citizens who donate $5.00 to a candidate they would like to see elected and who expect nothing more in return. But there are individuals and corporations who donate thousands, sometimes millions of dollars, who want to change government for their own benefit.

The proof of their success, and also the devil, may be found within the details of the 13,458 pages of the U.S. tax code. Sometimes it’s an added comma, sometimes a paragraph and sometimes an entire page favoring a large contributor. We can be sure we won’t discover a newly included page favoring one elderly grandmother barely getting by on Social Security who was still able to donate $5.00, hoping it would help some nice young man get elected.

Supposedly, we can’t donate money to a judge or to a juror, nor to a traffic officer or even to a city official, but we can donate millions to a politician seeking election. This, of course, is the problem: most citizens don’t have the millions to donate, and it would be unfair for someone who does to invalidate the single vote of poorer citizens.

It is basically wrong for one man with only one dollar to be outspent in influencing government by another man with millions of dollars. Those days should be put behind us: they aren’t fair.

There was a time when voting was restricted to people that owned property. Even John Adams supported this; he wrote: “… and every Man, who has not a Farthing, will demand an equal Voice with any other …”

Let’s have fairness in voting. Let’s limit each citizen to one vote and to a one-dollar political contribution.

Dick Sabine


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