Thursday, December 01, 2005

Campaign finance

The State
In Connecticut, Victory is Sweet!:
History was made at 2:45am, EST, this morning, when the Connecticut House joined the Senate in passing a comprehensive campaign reform bill that will establish full public financing of campaigns for all state offices. The bill now goes to Governor Jodi Rell, who has said she will sign it.

…Late last night, Connecticut's General Assembly became the first such body in the country to adopt a comprehensive public financing measure.
I'd love to see plans on this model established in every state. Yes, it undermines entrenched interests, and the fact that so many incumbents oppose these sorts of reforms is a powerful argument in their favor. For me as a member of the public, the time politicians spend fundraising is time they ought to spend governing. For them, it's money they can use in devious schemes (as we've seen), and it often entails a tit-for-tat. Everyone denies it, but no one believes it.

Money is access, and selling access to elected officials is profoundly undemocratic. Elected officials and candidates for public office should be accessible to the public, not just or primarily to people who ponied up.

That's why I applaud the CT legislature for taking a stand for accountability and honesty. While other states have similar schemes, they've always been advanced as ballot provisions, never in the legislative process.

This is a place where you can see the distinction between progressivism and liberalism. These sorts of reforms are progressive without being liberal, per se. John McCain is deeply conservative, but he's also progressive in the sense that he's a reformer. The same is true of Russ Feingold, who is both a liberal and a progressive. And Teddy Roosevelt was a progressive, the iconic figure of progressivism, but not specifically liberal or conservative in today's terms.

Liberalism is about liberty, and using the tools of government to ensure freedom and liberty in its broadest sense. Progressivism is about making government truly of, by and for the people. There's overlap, but it isn't absolute.

Progressivism rises when government has escaped the public's interests. It rose a century ago, and Teddy Roosevelt rode it to power, though his rise was circuitous at best. He was named vice-president in order to box him into a useless post; the power-brokers of the day hoped to stall the reforms he'd established in New York City and New York State, as well as the federal Civil Service Commission. Unfortunately for McKinley and the anti-progressives, but to our great benefit as a nation, Teddy's term as vice-president was cut short when he ascended to the presidency, where he fought for people's access to government and against corporate influences in the halls of power. I was inspired to think about this by a visit to Roosevelt's home at Sagamore Hill. Click on the photo (taken in the lobby of the American Museum of Natural History) to see more from that visit.

Reforms like those in Connecticut are part and parcel of a return of post-Gilded Age progressivism.