Friday, May 22, 2009

Good Bill, Bad Timing

Tennessee State Representative Gerald McCormick's bill to allow candidates who are currently serving in the General Assembly to raise money while the legislature is in session may be gaining "some traction" McCormick says, but the bill would also lift donation caps that could be given to candidates in a two-year period:

Republican Rep. Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga said Thursday that his proposal to remove individual contribution limits for gubernatorial campaigns would give every candidate the same fundraising potential as wealthy ones.

"Right now if a particular candidate wants to write $100 million to their own campaign — if they have that much money, they can do it," McCormick said of HB0198. "This allows everybody else to go to contributors that can afford to give a whole lot more money than $5,000."

In principle, this bill is a good idea because it levels the playing field. Not only can incumbents raise money during the legislative session, but far more importantly, it allows any candidate to raise enough money to be competative in a State race, not merely limit political competition to those who have a built-in warchest. Political office in our country was not intended to be the perview of the wealthy alone. Every citizen who can get their name on the ballot should have the opportunity to run a competative race for office, and to do that those citizens need the ability to raise money legally in order to compete with their opponents who very well might (and often do) have personal financial resources which allow them to get around the current fundraising limits which are in place.

Thus, the system needs to be reformed so that it is not inherently favorable to millionaires at the expense of working people and small businessmen and women. This proposal is probably the only constitutionally sound way to move our campaign system in Tennessee toward something that is a bit more equitable. The problem with this legislation is not the substance of the bill, but the timing behind it.

To introduce this bill now makes it appear as though the legislation is designed specifically to benefit Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey, who in running for Governor can't raise money during the legislative session (until June 1st), and when he does, must labor under caps which his very wealthy opponents do not have to observe. Yes, Ramsey shouldn't have to deal with all of that and should be given a fighting chance, but to wait until now-the heat of a campaign-to try and make this needed reform makes this needed bill look not like a campaign finance reform bill, but instead like the Ron Ramsey Enabling Act-and I support Ron Ramsey.

This needed to be introduced long before now, so at least if it went down to defeat and was reintroduced this year it could have been rightly said that conservatives had been trying to change the campaign finance system long before Ron Ramsey decided to run for Governor.

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