Nothing is free in bought elections

May 31 was a sad day for America. Buddy Roemer, the Reform Party presidential candidate, ended his campaign after 11 months of grassroots, uphill campaigning

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

The 31st May was a sad day for America. Buddy Roemer, the Reform Party presidential candidate, ended his campaign after 11 months of grassroots, uphill campaigning. A wealth of candidates threw in their lot for the race to the White House, Mitt Romney being the wealthiest. But it was only Roemer who ran on the single biggest problem in American politics: corruption.

America is caught in a downward spiral of legislative gridlock, with a bipartisan short-termism that fails to deal with imminent issues like public debt, energy security, or unemployment. Obama and Romney will agree that “the system is broken”, but it is more than that. The system is bought.

In order to stand a chance at the polls, candidates must raise huge sums of money to compete in the scope of their campaigns. Elections themselves are a multi-million dollar industry, with PAC (Political Action Committee) and super PAC funding the key to a successful campaign, without which it is almost impossible to maintain a nationwide approach. The only access to power is to sell yourself to party-political financing, adopting the policies that attract the money.

The problem is that when politicians gain office – be it gubernatorial, congressional, or presidential – they remain sold. In the past 10 years expenditure on lobbying has doubled, reaching $3.32 billion in 2011, money spent persuading legislators to stick to what they were paid to promise big business on the campaign trail. And it works. Campaign and political reform never make it onto the agenda because both sides are paid to avoid it and block legislation on it. Investigation into corruption is conducted by the very legislators that benefit from it, and so there is a cross-party incentive to avoid the issue.

But Buddy Roemer bucked the trend. A former Congressman, and Governor of Louisiana, he is the only one to have never accepted PAC, super PAC, or lobbyist money, and limited donations for his presidential campaign to $100. This set him at a severe disadvantage to other candidates, but lent credence to his promise to tackle the issue that casts a shadow of corruption over every other bill. In his words, “I will veto every damn one of them until we address campaign reform”.

Yet even his candidacy for the Republican Party until February, and then for the Reform party until June, exposed the corruption of the campaign system. Though garnering seven per cent in national polls, Roemer was invited to none of the 23 televised debates. For his first debate he was told he needed one per cent in the polls. It took five weeks, and he got it, but he was then told two per cent was necessary. Another five weeks of trawling the country campaigning, and he got it. The GOP promptly told him he needed to get another half million supporters in 90 days.

At every step he has been denied access to a national platform. Despite beating Santorum, Caine, Johnson, and Huntsman in Florida and South Carolina, he was invited to neither debate. The popular support was there, but the money was not, and so Roemer was denied access.

The media, enshrined in the constitution as the ultimate, most independent balance to the state, completely failed in their role to check the bipartisan stranglehold. After initial interviews on both ends of the political spectrum of programming – MSNBC and Fox – Roemer was blocked, for the sole reason that he was taking votes from their candidate.

Ultimately, Roemer did not raise enough support to jump the 15 per cent hurdle and gain a place in the Obama-Romney televised debate. But raising seven per cent on $100 maximum donations, no PAC funding, and no televised debate exposure is an incredible feat. His failure was not through lack of public support. It was through a process skewed against independence and free candidates.

The whole system is geared towards the preservation of entrenched interest groups that perpetuate the two-party electoral game. Roemer threatened them, and so was swiftly removed. When he ended his campaign in May, America lost the opportunity to reverse its national decline. The other candidates are already bought, their policy predetermined, and political progression stifled for at least another four years. There will be no solutions until both parties are forced to have a discussion of corruption.

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