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$6 Billion

American Election Insanity Must Stop

By James Donahue

As a retired newspaper reporter and editor I have had years of experience covering local, state and presidential elections in the United States. I have interviewed the candidates, written biographical/political reviews and described special ballot proposals, then stood those all-night vigils watching election returns flow in and crunching all of the numbers to determine vote totals and trends.

I am retired now, and very glad I did not have to stand the night watch on the 2012 elections or write the advance stories. I have never seen a campaign quite like it. Local media reports were shallow . . . amounting to little more than a printing of candidate publicity releases. Nobody asked the hard questions.

At the same time our nightly television news shows were bombasted with clever but malicious mud-slinging political ads filled with such blatant misinformation and distortions of fact that I found it hard to believe the voters in my area fell for them. I think there should be a law against publishing lies in political ads.

Thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling declaring corporations to be classified as "people" and able to pour unlimited amounts of money via Super PACs and nonprofit agencies into specific campaigns, the 2012 election has been dubbed the most expensive in history. Nearly $6 billion was wasted.

Imagine what that kind of money could have done for the victims of Hurricane Sandy in the Northeast, or the people along the Louisiana Coast still recovering from Hurricane Katrina, or the tornado ravaged folks throughout the Midwest who lost their homes, businesses, and everything they owned.

Imagine how the money might have helped the thousands of war-wounded veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and their families recover from what happened to them.

Imagine how far $6 million might have gone in feeding and housing the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have lost their jobs, their homes and their hope. Or all the young men and women with great minds that cannot afford to go to college because they can’t afford the high cost.

Why would people be willing to jump into such high priced political campaigns and go through the trauma of getting elected to high political office?

One reason is that the pay is good and once elected, the candidate is secure for life. Now only do the paychecks continue, but all federal and we think most state employees enjoy the finest health care benefits for life. Because of severe budget restraints in recent years, county and city elected officials don’t fare quite so well.

But there is something else those state and federal legislators, governors and presidents enjoy that we think becomes quite addictive. It is the sense of ultimate power of office. That and the wealth and high life that can be acquired through contact with wheeling and dealing lobbyists, plus the money earned through public speaking engagements and book contracts. It’s a high roller’s life style that draws these characters back to Washington like a magnet, and they make sure every move they make is designed to assure their re-election over and over again.

But the election process has become so flawed in America that it is obvious something serious needs to be done to make reforms.

Lets face it, everybody involved in the elections gains from the process. Even the media outlets that play the game get quite wealthy from the money paid in that barrage of advertising. News reporters treat the campaign much like broadcasting a football or baseball game, or perhaps a horse race. They devote too much time in reporting it, even going so far as taking complex polls and laying out statistics on charts showing which candidate is inching ahead as they come around for the home stretch.

Its all a game to them, but for the nation it is pretty serious stuff. We were only allowed to seriously consider one of two candidates representing either the Democratic or Republican parties. They were the only candidates allowed in the public debates. Somehow the media forgot that there were five other established "major" political parties, all offering candidates for the presidency and many other state and federal offices. They were the Libertarian, Green, Constitution, Justice and Americans Elect parties.

Why weren’t we told about these candidates? Why weren’t they included in the debates? Why didn’t we know about them until we walked into the poll booth and looked at the ballots?

The election reform that is desperately needed in America is as follows:

--Campaigns limited to only six months prior to the national primary.

--A limit set on the amount of money that any one candidate is allowed to spend.

--All candidates for all established parties must be given equal time in media coverage and public debate.

--Super-PACs and "non-profit" campaign spending must be outlawed.

--All polling places must use paper ballots or the older lever-action voting machines. Computerized voting machines and the old punch-card machines, which have caused problems, must be banned.