Campaign Finance Issues Essay, Research Paper
GENERAL BACKGROUND INFORMATION
We are not a democracy, yet we do have a voice in our own government. Elections are the choice microphones for many citizens. There on Election Day, they have the right of making their voices heard; however, many interest groups and a few individuals seem to have a louder voice due to campaign financing:
No U.S. official should be beholden to one or a few groups. And no group or individual should have a greater claim on our elected leaders than any other. That?s the way it should work. But it is growing clear to more and more Americans that it doesn?t (McCarthy 24).
Recently, it has been the trend to try to make sure the opinions and concerns of minorities are duly noted and pondered on. The only problem seen with this comes about whenever the minority ?buy? the attention of politicians. Typically, minorities are more than a number. The grossly rich, while small in number and percent, have never counted as a minority, but these are the only ones who can afford to give enough support to a candidate to draw attention to them. Again, we see an aristocratic government. Even interest groups of true minorities can?t give enough to impress anyone.
Now that we have seen the dangers of campaign financing, we should go back and find out how it started. Max McCarthy speaks of a time when everything got worse in politics. This was not to imply that everything had been perfect before, but once the media gets involved, things tend to go differently. Many years ago, the media began to play a vital role in the political education of our citizens, with radios and televisions. Before, only those with real authority had any complete knowledge of what went on with governmental politics. As each candidate was brought closer and closer to the American people, they actually started to care about things that before were nicely kept secrets. The opinions of these, now seemingly real people, instead of future historical figures, were actually heard, and the people actually knew who they were voting for. With the start of this new technology, campaigning was much easier; all that was needed was enough money to get the name recognition:
As campaign costs have skyrocketed in recent years, the percentages contributed by the parties and small individual donors have declined . . . An ever-growing segment of political funding now comes from special interest groups and large individual donors . . . Money is the most degrading, corrupting force in American politics today (McCarthy xi).
The idea behind fundraising for elections was a success at first, giving donors another way to voice their opinions and open up the doors for communication once the elected officials fully realized who they owed their position to. However, this went too far. Those whose candidate did not win were left with an official who will accept the ideas of a past donor before any others. This favoritism, while beneficial to certain donors, proves damaging to others. Also, when before, all donated and spoke their mind, now only certain groups and people donate and not even all of them speak their mind. ?The individual doesn?t count anymore?(McCarthy 25).
Now that I have given about three pages of background information on the political processes, now would be a good time to introduce my Representative. Ken Bentsen represents the 25TH District of Texas. He is a democrat and has served as representative since 1991. I actually have a few theories regarding the reasons he voted the way he did and why certain groups financially supported his campaign. Scholars for thousands of years have pondered the question of whether it was the chicken or the egg, which came first. In the case of campaigning and finance, such seems to be the question. Because voters had the opportunity of watching his career before 1996, it?s practically impossible to be able to tell if either they saw how he voted before and wanted to support him saw how he voted and wanted to change him, or he voted because of the money. I will not answer this question, but instead point out every possibility, hopeful creating an expository essay.
KEN BENTSEN: BACKGROUND INFORMATION
Bentsen received his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of St. Thomas in 1982 and his Masters of Public Administration in Finance and Economics from American University in 1985. While still in school, from 1983 to 1987, Ken Bentsen served as a legislative assistant to U.S. Representative Ronald D. Coleman. Among the responsibilities bestowed upon him, were budget and tax policy, defense, foreign affairs and international trade, labor policy, and transportation. Even still, in the remaining months or so of his schooling, he served as associate staff to the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations, where he specialized in Treasury, Defense, and general government funding. Moving along, from 1987 through 1994, Bentsen worked in Houston as an investment banker specializing in municipal and housing finance. Lastly, from 1990 to 1993, he served as Chair of the Harris County Democratic Party. Proving again that budgeting is up his league, he directed the rebuilding of the Party and the elimination of its debt, throughout his tenure. Ken Bentsen was born in Houston on June 3, 1959. Ken and is wife, Tamra, have two children, Louise and Meredith, and are members of the First Presbyterian Church of Houston.
KEN BENTSEN: BEFORE THE ELECTION
While Bentsen brags about beating the Republicans in a previous race, even when they out spent him, but it is apparent that in this race he wouldn?t take the risk.
Dolly McKenna, his Republican opponent, followed far behind with only $648,854 compared to his $1,692,979, yet she was the closest. The majority of his money came from PACs and other interest group, while Dolly McKenna received most of her contributions from individuals, which was actually less than the amount Ken Bentsen obtained from individual contributors. The following chart displays the amount Congressman Bentsen raised shows where it came from, with the exception of individual donor names or corporations.
KEN BENTSEN?S CAMPAIGN FINANCE
Period of Data: 1/1/1995 ? 12/31/1996
Communication and Electronics$20,500
Energy and Natural Resources$34,214
Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate$203,723
Ideology and Single-Issue$76,246
Lawyers and Lobbyists$58,000
A large sum of the interest group money came from labor. Consequently, the business industries contributed less than 15% of the labor contribution. ? ? We?re not trying to buy votes,? the oil company executive explained to the reporter. ?We?re trying to buy an entrée to talk about our problems? ?(McCarthy 23). ?They want their telephone calls answered?(McCarthy 13). It?s hard to pinpoint an exact reason why certain companies would give, while others would not. It?s possible they really believed in Ken Bentsen, or knew he would win and wanted to be in good terms with him. Corporations or individuals with influence have the same problem many Americans have with voting for a candidate they know will lose. Just as every citizen would like to feel that their vote actually counts, businesses have this thing with money. They don?t like to waste it. Instead of giving to the candidate they agree with, their money makes its way to the future winner?s campaign budget. If they can?t elect their preferred choice, the second best thing, would to be in ?good terms? with whoever is elected.
It has been said before that statistics, while factual, are also invalid because of the many different ways they can been interpreted. This remains true with the amount of money raised by candidates. It seems logical, because they amount raised proves that they have dedicated supporters, but it also goes to reason that not everyone who votes has the desire, or income to support their candidate financially. Their only voice is their vote, which isn?t heard until it?s all over. In fact, Jacobson put it this way, ?As in every election since data have become available, the amount spent by the incumbent has a much smaller effect on the outcome?(Malbin 62).
Even still, there was only one person in this particular race who spent more than the one who was directly ahead of him. As shown by the graph below, the amount of votes followed the amount of money. In this particular graph, I used Ken Bentsen?s money as the set value and made up the percentages accordingly, seeing that his campaign budget was highest.
KEN BENTSEN: AFTER ELECTED
As the representative of District 25, Congressman Bentsen works on several committees:
Social SecurityLabor Issues
Medicare or MedicaidSBA
Educational IssuesImmigration Visas & Passports
The majority of his votes concern immigration and aviation.
Few contributions came from organizations Congressman Bentsen has no voting control over, or has not yet been able to vote over. The voting issue even brings up more possible reason for why certain people or businesses, or interest groups decided to donate to his cause.
Because he has been in office since 1991, the voters already knew what he stood for. Oddly enough, many contributors gave even though he had previously voted against their wishes in over 50% of the votes. It is possible that they too simply wanted a way to get his attention, or thought they could buy him. Ken Bentsen has proved that the money has not effected his votes though. He has voted against his donors if he felt it was necessary. Most likely, it was easier for him go against proposition designed to help immigration, or at least improve its organization, because only U.S. citizens can vote. In fact he seemed to primarily vote in opposition towards those kinds of bills. There is also another case where he rejected a bill that would give airports more money (19.5 billion) to keep up airport security, even though the transportation industries donated $25,000 to his campaign.
Although, in a round about way, donors have an edge when it comes to voting. If they personally know him, they will naturally feel more comfortable talking and explaining why they disagree with a certain bill. Also, like most people, he may not accept the call or email of someone whose name he did not recognize, making it harder for them to get their opinion heard. In fact campaign magazines explain the art of getting money. Making promises and taking pretty pictures weren?t enough for a prospective donor; they want real communication, to feel as if they know the candidate. With this kind of relationship, it stands to reason that they won?t be disappointed quite frequently. Even if they disagree with him, he will be more likely to help them see what he sees than for someone else.
In life, there is never any black and white. There are always gray areas. In politics, the fact remains:
Unfortunately, it is difficult to escape Herbert E. Alexander?s conclusion that ?there are no universally accepted criteria by which to determine when political campaign spending becomes excessive ?(Goidel 39).
As taxpayers, we can easily get disgusted by the enormous amount of money being spent on an election, but we have no idea what it takes to make it anywhere in politics:
Not only is the choice between candidates offered only every two years . . . but the decision to try a different brand is based on the decision of more than a single consumer. If the economic market worked in a similar fashion, consumers who voted for Pepsi would be forced to drink Coca-Cola if 50 percent + 1 percent of the voting population opted for the ?real thing? (Goidel 38).
This analogy compared the economic market to campaigning. Both have the prime objective of selling something. It was decided that if Coke is able to spend millions and billions advertising such a trivial object, our future leaders should be able to spend as much, if not more. The idea is not to buy off the American people but instead, painstakingly inform them.
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