Making a choice between John Kerry and George W. Bush cost some $1.2 billion last year. Congressional elections boosted the bill to nearly $4 billion. Making a choice between these three men -- Labor's Tony Blair, the conservative's Michael Howard and the Liberal Democrat's Charles Kennedy, with 646 members of the House of Commons thrown in on the deal -- comes for little more than $18 million.
The amount of money spent in a big state in the U.S. is as much as all the parties are going to spend in Britain, or putting it another way, if you look at how much is being spent by the three main parties in Britain, it wouldn't you get elected to the Senate in California.
The segment goes on to note that Britain's tough campaign-spending limits were enacted after mass corruption in the 19th century, when the wealthy bought their way into office. Sound familiar?
Campaign finance reform has fallen a few rungs down the priority ladder for progressives. I suspect the biggest reason is because in 2004, unlike many election cycles in the past, Democrats -- who had been the biggest advocates of reform -- discovered they could go head-to-head with the GOP in fundraising, thanks in part to "netroots" donors.
But the amount of money shoveled into political races -- especially broadcast advertising, a big reason the media never got behind campaign finance reform -- remains obscene. It's a tremendous waste of resources; it opens the door to undue influence from special interests; and it erects enormous barriers to good, grassroots candidates running for office. The political money chase is also a civil rights issue, limiting the access to political office of African-Americans, Latinos and others that happen not to be rich.
Democrats and progressives are now (justifiably) hammering on Rep. Tom DeLay for, among other things, his use of corporate campaign dollars to peddle influence and service corporate America. But the problem isn't Tom DeLay, as bad as he might be -- it's an entire system in need of reform, and progressives are only hurting the cause in the long-term by focusing only on the foibles of the bugman from Texas.
Fortunately, we have alternatives at hand. Democracy North Carolina is one of many groups advocating for Voter Owned Elections, which they brought one step closer to reality in 2002 by successfully pushing for public financing of judicial elections.