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Maybe America ain't ready for campaign finance reform

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a-merriner-72.jpgJames L. Merriner, one of Chicago's reigning experts on political corruption, told a Sept. 28 gathering at the city's Union League Club that it might be might be time to rethink campaign finance reform.

The first federal election campaign act was passed in 1971, and it was followed by many, many iterations at the state and local level.

"So we have a 40-year record of testing the effects of limits on campaign funding, and they have failed," Merriner says.

Campaign finance reform has not reduced the influence of money in politics nor elevated public trust in government nor achieved any other goals of reformers, he says.

The Supreme Court has ruled that, under the Constitution, government can't restrain political speech. So, he says, to limit the influence of money on politics you need either a constitutional amendment or a new Supreme Court.

Merriner is author of "Grafters and Goo goos: Corruption and Reform in Chicago," a book that another panelist at the event, former Illinois legislator James Nowlan, said is the best book about the history of Illinois corruption.

Read a Sept. 7 Mark Brown column on Rahm Emanuel and fund-raising here.

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For a lot of reasons, we need a new Supreme Court. If President Obama is re-elected, he may have a chance to appoint one or two justices who aren't in the pocket of right wing ideologues.

Today, the Obama and Romney campaigns have cumulatively spent $1.14 billion, with at least another $320 million left on the marker for the 30-odd days before November 6th. Nearly a half a billion ($429 million) was spent on television ads alone. With crumbling infrastructure, plunging test scores, decreasing social mobility (we’re currently ranked 10th internationally), skyrocketing college tuition, it doesn’t take an inordinate amount of intelligence to see that even at the most basic level our government is laughably inefficient, and, if a less charitable impression is taken, that its interests simply do not intersect with our own (with "us" being that pesky “we the people” part of that holiest of preambles).
If we tally up the unspent portion (assuming the campaigns will leave no stone unturned-- in this case, no dollar unspent-- in their frenzied dash to the White House) we can safely predict the final total of funds spent on television propaganda, stump speeches, rallies, yard signs, and whatever else a candidate deems vital (lapel pins, anyone?) to be somewhere between 1.5 and 2 billion dollars. Mitt Romney suggested we might pay for his predicted $5 trillion budget shortfall over the next 10 years by cutting Big Bird’s seed ration, which amounts to an unwieldy .00012 percent of the federal budget. Yet somehow campaign finance reform doesn’t merit attention. While this kind of money being incinerated by the wheelbarrow load is unconscionable, this isn’t even taking into to account every last senate, congressional, mayoral, etc., race where further tens and hundreds of millions are being sloshed into slush funds and fed to the greedy, hydra-headed beast of market capitalism. (cont on blog...

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