by | Mar 24, 2002 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

As any parent knows, if you try to take away your child’s allowance, you can expect a fight.

Remember that lesson in this campaign finance thing. Despite the endless yapping about free speech, at the core of this issue are angry children who want their cash flow restored.

Last week, even as the Senate finally accepted a campaign finance bill that took seven years to pass, certain politicians were thumping history books and threatening lawsuits.

Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky senator, is one of these. Phil Gramm from Texas is another. Gramm actually waved a little red book of the Constitution. He declared that money given to politics “enhanced the free speech” of our citizens.

Wow. That’s a Texas-sized justification.

Too bad it’s full of beans.

First of all, what exactly is “enhanced” free speech? It sounds to me like someone getting to speak louder than someone else. And isn’t that the whole problem here? When corporations and rich people give $450 million in so-called soft money to political parties — as they did in the 2000 elections — and the average American earns maybe $27,000 a year, you can bet that politicians will be listening to certain people more than others.

Does Enron ring a bell?

What are they fighting for?

So don’t be fooled by the self-righteous hollering on both sides of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, or the dream team of lawyers that McConnell is organizing to challenge this thing in court.

Don’t be fooled by the claims that limiting issue ads that run before federal elections is a terrible blow to your right to free speech.

This is what politicians do. They protect their interests by telling you they are protecting yours.

But ask yourself this: What are they fighting for? Issue ads? Have you seen those things? They are the dirtiest, nastiest form of mudslinging. In some cases, they all but accuse the other guy of being a child-molesting, commie-loving terrorist.

Is that something the average American wants to preserve?

Of course not. All you hear is people complaining about these ads. So whose interests are these politicians after? Not yours.

As for the soft money ban, come on. Anybody who’s awake knows that big business buys influence, that billionaires can get special access.

The new bill, in many ways, shuts that faucet. Sure, the fat cats will search for loopholes. So what? Does that mean you don’t make any rules?

The model is elementary

In junior high, we had a better idea. If you ran for student council, they gave you three pieces of construction paper and some magic markers. You made your posters. You hung them on the walls.

That was it for campaign finance.

Elementary as it seems, this model should be what all of us — including our politicians — are shooting for. Everyone gets the same access. Everyone spends the same money. And the best candidates win with their platforms — not with the TV time they can buy.

In a simpler world, corporations, unions and private interest groups would not contribute anything to politicians. And millionaires would have the same low limits as the average citizen.

That way, a politician would have to actually meet his constituents, sell himself with his personality. And once elected, he would only owe the people.

Sounds Pollyannaish? Maybe. But so does a dusty document called the Constitution. And look who’s waving that around these days.

The fact is, our forefathers didn’t have to deal with television or multinational corporations or PACs. They were about principles. And now those principles are being bent to deny the very spirit of the document.

Enhanced free speech? I remember when my dad stopped my allowance and I cried foul. He said: “It was a gift. You’re not entitled to it.”

Try telling that to a politician.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or Catch “Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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