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Ugly Money and Its Solution by Harry Lonsdale

Ugly Money and Its Solution by Harry Lonsdale

My wife’s aunt Joan, who lives in Los Angeles, is 88 years old, a former labor organizer, and one of the smartest people I know. When she ponders the state of our nation, our immoral war against Iraq, the several rounds of tax breaks for the rich, our irresponsible media, and our gutless Democratic “leaders,” her regular assessment is “Ain’t it awful?” Yes, Joan it surely is. We have plenty of work to do.

Still, some good people are fighting back. The New York Times fired Judith Miller for her stenographic “reporting” that helped lead us into the Iraq war. There is some stirring in Congress toward holding Bush accountable. And his poll numbers are in the tank.

Here in Oregon, a group of us is dedicated to righting a century-old wrong, by ridding our state of the influence of Big Money in our elections. It’s called Campaign Finance Reform (CFR).

We’ve been at it now for a decade. We thought we had the ugly money-in-politics system beaten in Oregon back in 1994 when voters approved of a CFR initiative with a 72% yes vote. Alas, in 1997, the Oregon Supreme Court threw out that law, calling it a violation of the free speech clause in the Oregon Constitution. We disagree. U.S. Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens said it best: “Money is property. It is not speech.”

And so we’re at it again; working to qualify two initiatives for the 2006 ballot. One initiative, Petition 8, is a one-sentence amendment to the Oregon Constitution that clarifies the fact that money is not free speech. It states that We the People can limit or prohibit certain types of campaign contributions.

Our second initiative, Petition 37, is a statute that implements that amendment. It imposes limits on individual contributions, prohibits all corporate and union treasury contributions to all candidates for in-state offices, limits how much candidates can spend on their own races, and spells out strict reporting and disclosure requirements on campaign contributions, so that voters can know where candidates’ money is coming from before the election.

These two measures have been reviewed for constitutionality by the best scholars in the country, and we believe they are rock-solid. Much of what is in our proposed new Oregon law has already been found to be constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The most innovative and populist portion of our proposed statute is the creation of “small donor committees” (SDCs). SDCs can contribute all the money they want to any candidate provided that all of it comes from individuals who contribute not more than $50 per year. This would return the power of elections to the “little guy” in Oregon.

We commissioned a poll this summer to determine Oregonian attitudes toward campaign finance reform. In response to the question, “Would you favor or oppose the establishment of some kind of campaign contribution limits?,” the response was overwhelmingly positive. Of the people who offer an opinion, six out of seven supported limits and four out of seven strongly supported limits! The support was across-the-board: Democrats, Republicans, and Independents in all five Congressional Districts.

Clearly, if our measures qualify for the November 2006 ballot, they should pass easily.

Actually, most states in our country have fixed the money-in-politics problem, at least to some extent. Oregon is one of only 6 states that has no limits of any kind on campaign contributions. No wonder The Oregonian reported repeatedly during the 2005 legislative session on the influence of big (usually corporate) money on legislative decisions.

Our legislature has had more than a century to fix the problem of Big Money in politics. They have failed, miserably. Though a few courageous members, such as Mark Hass, Charlie Ringo, Chip Shields, and Bill Morrisette have spoken out in favor of reform. Their efforts have gotten nowhere.

And so it is up to the “other legislature,” the citizens’ legislature—that is, you and me—to get the job done.

You can help. First, I ask you to check out our website, www.fairelections.net to find out more about these two initiatives. Then, if you decide to join us in this effort, here’s what you can do:

1. You can help us gather signatures to assure that both of these initiatives will qualify for the ballot next year. If you have never gathered signatures before—or even if you have (because the rules change a bit from year to year)—we have instructional videos on our website. On the home page of the fairelections.net website, under Initiative Petitions, click on to “Training and Other Videos” for a short course in signature-gathering.

We already have more than 100,000 signatures collected. But we still need 100,000 more. Wouldn’t you like to play a part in making Oregon history? If you only collected 10 signatures on each petition—which you could do without leaving your home—you would be making a contribution.

2. Make a financial contribution. Make checks payable to Fair Elections Oregon and mail to Liz Trojan, 12320 SW 60th Avenue, Portland, OR 97219. Contributions are not tax deductible.

Several members of our group are happy to assist you in your efforts. They can answer questions and they will send you signature-gathering packets, complete with all you will need to gather signatures. In the Portland Metro area, contact Travis Diskin, at (503) 367-9715 (cell) or email him at [email protected]. In Eugene and southern Oregon, contact Brooke Robertshaw at (541) 338-8566 or email her at [email protected]. Members of the Pacific Green Party statewide are requested to contact Teresa Keane, at (503) 475-0051 (cell) or email her at [email protected].

We hope that you’ll join us to play this role in American democracy. Your children and grandchildren will thank you. And I thank you.

Harry Lonsdale has long worked for the cause of truth and justice in government.

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