1 percent solution to campaign finance extravagance

Posted May 17, 2010, at 5:16 p.m.

While death and taxes are inevitable, another phenomenon occurs on a regular basis — political campaigns and the obscene amount of money spent on those campaigns. Campaign finance laws and guidelines are vast and complex. Our elected officials spend enormous amounts of time drumming up more campaign funds, even after they are elected.

It may be getting more and more costly to run for elected office. The Supreme Court just made it easier for corporations to contribute to campaigns. Nearly everyone who contributes to campaigns espouses lofty goals, even though they may seek self interests, or hold real or hidden agendas.

So, I propose that the candidates take money and support those lofty goals yet apply 1 percent of their campaign funds toward the running of the specific office the candidate seeks. That’s only one penny for every dollar contributed. No matter what the office may be i.e. local selectman, state representative, U.S. senator, or president of the United States. Just imagine how the cost of running the specific office could be decreased.

The choice to donate the 1 percent really would be optional for all candidates in the campaign. It would work on the honor system. One needs no new regulatory body.

Corporations and special interest groups like the American Medical Association, labor unions, the National Rifle Association, the big pharmaceuticals, the Sierra Club and the like might consider, when contributing to a specific candidate, that they make it clear they strongly prefer the candidate adopt the 1 percent solution.

By doing so, the groups, by default, reinforce their alleged lofty goals of participating in “democracy,” thus diluting a judgment of hypocrisy.

Of course, parts of this solution get tricky. What to do with all the money from the Democratic and Republican National Committees and Political Action Committees? They dole out millions of dollars to whomever they desire, to the most likely candidates and even to candidates who have no chance of winning.

Crafty politicians, being the way they are, could figure out with successful, artful accounting how to get around the donation idea or restrict the definition of “contributions.’’ However, the 1 percent solution would be run on the honor system and is optional. One would hope that the Democratic and Republican National Committees might embrace the honor system.

Another tricky area is the questions of advertisements supporting an issue rather than a candidate. Attributing the money spent for issue ads would be outside the 1 percent solution option. I don’t know the intricacies of the campaign finances of candidates who use only government funds for their candidacy. Or the very rich who finance their own campaigns. Here again things get murky.

I can hear the candidates saying: “Gee, I need all the money I can get.” Well, I bet good things would happen if a candidate declares early in the campaign or when he or she launches the campaign that they will support the 1 percent solution “for better government for the American people.” What’s not to like? He or she might even have more money contributed.

Wouldn’t you like to know that 1 percent of the money spent on those bumper stickers and metastasizing signs stuck on lawns is money going to the running of the candidate’s office?

You have to wonder how much money will soon be spent on the race for Maine’s governor. Wouldn’t it be reassuring in these tough economic times if the governor’s office received 1 percent of the campaign contributions from each candidate? A rough estimate of some figures in the Bangor Daily News on April 28 suggests that $26,000 could be coming to the governor’s office if the 1 percent solution worked.

William Gallagher, MD, is a physician in Bangor.

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