Ron Paul's Texas Straight Talk - A weekly Column

March 2, 1998
Never sacrifice liberty for "campaign reform"
Freedom and democracy should be enhanced by campaign reform

'Reform' is a word used rather carelessly in Washington, DC; a buzz-word used to give legitimacy to action, any action, regardless of its impact on our society. More damage has been done to our nation under the auspices of 'reform' than any other excuse.

Despite the rhetoric, the proposed "campaign finance reforms" have little to do with liberty, freedom and democracy, and much to do with narrowing the choices available to the American people and limiting their ability to participate in the free exchange of ideas. And above all else, these "reforms" are designed to preserve the status quo and protect those in power. To maintain their authority, many in Congress are willing to limit the choices of Americans and trample First Amendment rights.

I recently asked to come before the House Oversight Committee to discuss campaign finance reform as part of a panel. Congressman after congressman presented their ideas to restrict the American people and limit participation in the political process. They offered proposals requiring that the American taxpayer bear the burden of funding the campaigns of all federal candidates (of course, not all candidates would be federally funded, it was quickly added, only those who are deemed "viable" by the government).

The problem, according to these congressmen, is the big-money interests trying to influence the outcomes of elections. But none wanted to address the root of the problem, of why groups are willing to spend so much money trying to affect an election. Groups do so because of the overwhelming power the federal government has over every aspect of life.

Extensive power - the ability to confer financial and legislative favors - is now concentrated in the hands of relatively few lawmakers. If we remove that power, we remove the incentive to influence how the power is wielded. I wouldn't mind getting the big PAC money, but it doesn't come my way because I'm not considered a "good investment" for those seeking handouts or special attention at taxpayer expense; they know I just won't go along. Big money flows to non-ideological candidates who have no problem tinkering with the markets to give advantages - or disadvantages - as they wish.

The only meritorious reform is legislation to strike down barriers which serve to quash opposition to the big-government political factions. For this reason, under authority of Article I, Section 4, of the U.S. Constitution relating to the "Times, Places and Manner" of holding federal elections, I have introduced HR 2477, the Voter Freedom Act, and HR 2478, the Debate Freedom Act. Rather than trampling individual rights, these bills actually enhance fundamental liberties and expand the exchange of ideas. These bills embrace, rather than disgrace, the First Amendment.

The Voter Freedom Act prohibits states from erecting excessive ballot access barriers to candidates for federal office, while the Debate Freedom Act prohibits recipients of taxpayer-funded campaign matching funds from participating in debates to which everyone qualifying for such funds are not invited.

If corporations conspired to lock their competitors out of economic markets the way Republicans and Democrats have locked competitors out of the political market, CEOs would be prosecuted under anti-trust laws. And the many of us are correctly calling for more parental choice in education, to improve academics. But Republicans and Democrats defend the status quo-protection racket by claiming we must limit the number of candidates down to avoid "voter confusion." So while the American people can sort out the myriad of choices available to them for foods, entertainment, banks, schools and doctors, politicians seem to think voters are not smart enough to decide between more than two candidates (especially as there is often no substantive difference between candidates of the two major parties).

That 90 million Americans of voting age refused to vote in the 1996 election indicates that a high number of Americans have little faith in the federal government, or at least the ability of either party to represent them. Over 40 percent of Americans identify themselves as neither Democrats or Republicans, and they demand their views be represented. It is unconscionable to continue to exclude from debates candidates who represent the views of 40% of the people, especially as the current system of financing forces taxpayers to subsidize presidential candidates with whom they disagree.

As this issue remains in the forefront, there will be the opportunity to make major changes. The changes we make will affect the electoral process, which will affect the government which taxes and regulates so much in our nation. If we choose poorly, people will become more disinterested and the special interests will gain even more power. But if we choose wisely, we will present to the future a system more democratic and responsive to the notions of liberty so cherished by the American people.

Choice and competition are good in our lives, imperative for a healthy economy, and an absolute necessity in free elections.

Ron Paul represents the 14th District of Texas in the United States House of Representatives. He can be contacted at his office, 203 Cannon, Washington, DC 20515, or via the Internet (