Recently there was a televised forum featuring the candidates for US Senate from the Democratic, Republican, and Libertarian parties of Washington State. What made this forum unique in modern politics was the inclusion of the Libertarian candidate. How he made his way into the forum as well as the reactions to his inclusion speak volumes to where we are with regard to money in politics in this state and, in fact, in the country.
The forum was sponsored and televised by KING TV in Seattle. Even though there are five candidates appearing on the election ballot – Democrat, Maria Cantwell; Republican, Mike McGavick; Libertarian, Bruce Guthrie; Independent, Robin Adair; and Green, Aaron Dixon – only Cantwell and McGavick were originally scheduled to participate. The reason for this was based on the “rules” as established by KING TV; one of which states, ” To meet our standard, a candidate must show they have raised ten percent of the funds raised by the winner of the previous election for that position. The standard will be determined by taking the latest mandated financial report for the campaign and comparing it to the financial report filed for the comparable period of time by the winner of the previous election for the position. If the report indicates the candidate has raised ten percent of the prior winner's fundraising total for the comparable reporting period then the candidate will have demonstrated significant public support. For this debate we will take the 2004 third quarter fundraising report Senator Patty Murray filed with the federal Election Commission - $12,096,027.60.” Therefore to qualify to appear on a local television station (broadcasting on the public’s airwaves), a candidate who otherwise met the Constitutional requirements for the office as well as the state requirements (which includes a $1652 filing fee) needed to show a campaign fund with at least $1.2 million!
Enter Bruce Guthrie; Libertarian candidate. Just days before the scheduled forum, Mr. Guthrie took out a second mortgage against his home and loaned his political campaign $1.2 million. Suddenly the scheduled exchange of sound bites and platitudes took on a new twist. The viewing audience would be seeing and hearing that rarest of political animals, a third party candidate, sharing the same airwaves at the same time as the “real” candidates for US Senate. It didn’t take long for the pundits to “explain” the situation to the public. Libertarian buys way into Cantwell-McGavick debate for $1.2 million was the headline of the article by Seattle PI reporter, Neil Modie. Modie immediately explained, ” Bruce Guthrie, the Libertarian candidate for the U.S. Senate, has bought himself a $1.2 million place at a debate podium with his better-known opponents, Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell and Republican Mike McGavick. Guthrie admitted Monday that he lent $1,181,700 to his ultra-underdog campaign Saturday mainly to appear credible enough for inclusion in the only televised Western Washington debate between the two major candidates.”
The blogs have been a source of “enlightenment” on the subject of candidate qualifications. Over at David Postman’s Blog Postman on Politics Aaron comments, ” It is completely appropriate for King5 to create standards for judging serious candidates. Anyone can file for a position, but the media wouldn't be acting in the public's best interest by creating a soapbox for any loon to speak from.” followed up by Giffy, who asks, ”… should we (allow) anyone who submits a filling fee (to) debate? Often there can be quite a few. Hell it seems like a fun way to get on the news. This is why the media requires some level of seriousness before it invites individuals to debate. Otherwise every nutcase with a pen can get 3 hours of air time.”
Making the case that Aaron Dixon (and, I assume Robin Adair) should have been afforded access to the debate over at Washblog, Bill Moyer (singular) from The Backbone Campaign says, ”…I do not know who sets the rules, but it strikes me as obscene that access to the debates is not relative to whether one is on the ballot, but whether one's campaign has a million dollars in the bank.
It is the obligation of a free people to stand up for diversity in discourse by letting political debate happen through words rather than exclusion. If one wishes to prove someone wrong or a fool, then they ought to do it on stage where he or she can defend him or herself. The voters deserve that.” Apparently not everyone agrees. Ivan comments, ”It was their (KING TV) microphone, their debate, their rules, and their responsibility. Go complain to them.
Are we to gather from this post that it is somehow Cantwell's responsibility to ensure that Aaron Dixon, or any other candidate, is included in these debates? Or more bizarre yet, that we should drop everything and tilt at this windmill 19 days before the election?
If KING had come to Cantwell and offered her an hour of free time, just by herself, without McGavick even, would people fault her for accepting it?
Or out of some sense of "fairness" or "balance" should Cantwell say: "No, I'm not going on TV unless McGavick is here with me getting equal time."?
Some of you people need to get some things straight. This is politics, not beanbag. And this is PARTISAN politics, not the League of Women Voters.” There is this from abelenky, ”Can someone justify taking time away from serious candidates, one of whom will be our Senator, and subjecting voters to the whimsical ramblings of a candidate who has no chance of ever getting elected? We are much better served hearing the thoughts of our next senator.”
I think what I have found most disheartening over the course of this election year is the ease with which some can set aside principle for expedience; people who will tell you that they support public financing of political campaigns and decry the effects of money in politics and yet will set those complaints to the side if they see an advantage for their candidate (or a disadvantage for the opposition). To return to Ivan, ”And whereas fairness in elections is something we all can subscribe to as a long-range goal, in the heat of election cycles we have to set some priorities.” It just appears that the “long-range” stretches even further beyond our sight. We continue to settle for the lesser of evils because we demand that those who would seek office be able to raise vast amounts of money as an "indicator of support." We are living in a political climate where we complain about a congress that only spends 97 days in session and yet we demand that those who wish to remain there spend the bulk of their time out raising money. What a system. And how many here support it whole-heartedly?
Chad (The Left) Shue