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Opinion

November 6, 2012

Watson: Money is damaging our political system

Is there anybody who isn’t glad that this election campaign season has come to a close? And that we feel that way reflects what we all know to be true: The campaign process, the state of the governing process and the overall condition of our representative democracy are quite bad and exhibit much dysfunction.

As we all wait to see who becomes (or stays) president and who gets elected to the House and Senate, now is a good time to think about our politicians generally, and the environment they work in.

Although there are problems that can be attributed solely to the behavior of the Republican Party or the Democratic Party, there are enough detrimental features characterizing the political system generally that we can focus usefully on those. If we were to eliminate or reform just the aspects of our political processes that are distorting or damaging both parties equally, or that both parties are exploiting equally, or that act to disempower citizens of both parties equally, then we could go a long way toward improving the responsiveness, performance and accountability of our elected officials.

Perhaps the biggest poison in the political world today is money. Afflicting the behavior and practices of both Democratic and Republican officeholders in roughly equal measure, unprecedented and constant sums of money are damaging the quality of campaigns and corrupting the ability of congressmen, especially, to legislate with independence and integrity.

The enormous flow of funds — now effectively unregulated at all — during the campaign season has become so large that political ads themselves are written hastily, aired relatively briefly, and meet no standards of accuracy or decency. Because neither the identity of the ad sponsors nor the authors of the ad contents are disclosed — for the “nonprofit” organizations created solely to run the ads — nobody can be held accountable, and citizens cannot know who is funding the poison. As a result, millions of dollars are spent entirely on smearing candidates dishonestly.

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