The debate, of course, is over a package of legislation referred to as "campaign finance reform." There is a correct recognition of a serious problem in our nation: the undue influence of "big money" special interests attempting to buy - or at least rent - politicians.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of the legislation being considered takes exactly the wrong course of action. Many of the politicians assume that restricting the right of people to be involved in the political process can cure what is wrong with the system. Limiting freedom, however, is not the answer, for the problem is not that we have too much freedom, but that government has too much power.
The real origin of the campaign finance problem is the expanded role of the federal government. The simple truth is that people are willing to spend a lot of money to influence the outcome of elections because the federal government has so much power. With that in mind, it is obvious that the proper solution to the issue is to greatly reduce the role of government. By drastically reducing the power lawmakers maintain over virtually every aspect of citizen's lives, the influence enjoyed by campaign contributors, lobbyists and political action committees would quickly dissipate.
We are fooling ourselves if we think that real reform will ever take place, given the narrowness of the current range of ideological debate. After all, in Washington it is often political pragmatism, not devotion to principle, which guides the decisions of people of both parties. And they have found it is not only easier to blame those who donate to campaigns for the problem with the system, but it also allows them to keep all the power they have amassed.
The rights of eligible citizens to seek office, volunteer for the campaigns of the candidates they like, vote for candidates of their choice, and even the right to create and develop new political parties, are fundamental to a free society. But more and more, people find the choice of candidates from the two major parties to be akin to choosing between the lesser of two evils, and feel increasingly unrepresented in the democratic process, not knowing that there may well be candidates out there who more closely match their own political philosophy.
I have introduced two pieces of legislation which will be included in the debate on this issue. My legislation, rather than disgracing our First Amendment rights, embraces them by enhancing electoral free speech.
The Debate Freedom Act of 1997 expands the opportunity for political debate and discourse by requiring recipients of federal matching campaign funds (currently available only for Presidential and Vice Presidential campaigns) to agree in writing not to participate in debates to which every other candidate for that office whom either qualifies for federal funds or is on the ballot in a minimum of 40 states, are not invited. If the candidate violates the agreement, they lose the federal matching funds.
A lack of differing views in the debates is not the only problem; there is also a lack of choice at the ballot box.
Undue restrictions on access to the ballot impair the ability of citizens to exercise their rights, and has a direct and damaging effect on citizens' participation in the electoral process. Many states unduly restrict access to the ballot by means of such devices as excessive petition signature requirements, insufficient petitioning periods, unconstitutionally early petition filing deadlines, petition signature distribution criteria, and limitations on eligibility to circulate and sign petitions.
The Voter Freedom Act will establish fair and uniform standards regulating access to the ballot by eligible citizens who desire to seek election to Federal office and political parties, bodies, and groups which desire to take part in elections for Federal office; and to maximize the participation of eligible citizens in elections for Federal office.
Congress has strict constitutional authority to regulate, protect and promote the exercise of the voting rights, as well as set the specifications on how federal elections are to be conducted.
It would be ironic if in our zeal to promote freedom and correct what is wrong with our system of campaigns and elections, we instituted new laws and regulations that trample our most precious rights. The answer to our electoral problems is found not in restricting freedom or limiting access, but rather in following the Constitution and allowing maximum individual liberty.