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ISSUE 120 VOL 17 PUBLISHED 4/13/2007

Spring cleaning for elections

By Lauren Ciechanowski
Staff Writer

Friday, April 13, 2007

You know that the state of politics is in a bad place when Van Halen and presidential candidates have similar summer ambitions: tour the country, make as much money as possible and try to score a few extra-marital affairs. While the last one may be hyperbolic, the state of campaign fundraising has reached obscene and nearly satirical proportions. The upcoming presidential campaign has proven itself anything but immune from this flawed fundraising system.

In March, Sens. Richard Durbin, Arlen Specter and Congressman John Tierney introduced the Fair Elections Now Act in the Senate and the Clean Money, Clean Elections Act in the House, which if passed would allow candidates running for United States offices the opportunity to receive money from a public fund instead of support from lobbyists and special interest groups.

According to a March 20 press release from Durbin, the purpose of these bills is to encourage the participation of a diverse selection of candidates, and to rectify what Durbin describes as a "deeply flawed" campaign fundraising system that currently "overwhelms the entire campaign process. Rather than spending campaigns kissing babies and reaching into lobbyists" back pockets, candidates will be able to disseminate their ideas and spend more time actually presenting their issues to voters.

Fair and clean election initiatives have been adopted in Vermont, Maine, California, North Carolina, New Mexico and Arizona. In fact, Sen. John McCain has been running fair and clean since the bill passed in April of 2004. His campaign ads are simple, inexpensive, direct and issue-based. However, since he has begun his campaign for the presidency, he has spent a significant amount of his "campaign time" fundraising and courting lobbyists and interest groups at the national level; a tight budget cannot compete with the dazzle and sparkle of big-budget campaigns.

When Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack dropped out of the presidential race in February due to poor funding, I'll admit I had not at all followed his campaign prior to the news. Come to think of it, I still haven't. He was so poor when he dropped out, I'll bet none of you can even tell me who he endorsed in his withdrawal speech.

We are at a political crossroads. No matter what road we choose in 2008, a lot of tough decisions stand before our nation. But since when have tough decisions been fun to make? I cannot tell you the difference between Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton's strategies for Iraq, but I sure can relate to you several of their idiotic and painful political blunders. As far as campaigns are concerned, intelligence must be purchased, but idiocy is free: everyone knows that John Edwards bats for the other team, and Obama is incredibly articulate for someone who's "well, you know."

Idiocy in a campaign spreads faster than herpes on a wrestling mat, but eloquence is boring  it doesn't sell. Candidates have been buying methods of making campaigns sell for years. Money from a lobbyist in exchange for favors a few months later can buy a candidate airtime on several stations to don makeup, flash that mug and sling a bit of mud at the other guy. It's not fair, it's not clean and it has been out of control since it came into fashion.

The bills that Durbin, Specter and Tierney introduced are an opportunity for our candidates to level the playing field and start campaigning for their offices instead of fundraising. Our country is at a social, economic and military crossroads; no matter what side of the fence you stand on, the 2008 presidential campaign is going to be pivotal to the direction our nation takes. The passage of fair and clean election bills at the national level will be the first step our nation takes to supporting a cleaner electoral environment.

Staff Writer Lauren Ciechanowski is a senior from Oak Park, Ill. She majors in political science and in sociology/anthropology.

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