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An Open Letter to Jim Kenney
I have agreed with you that democracy is undermined when, due to a misguided interpretation of the US Constitution, millionaires can spend unlimited sums of money in support of their own political campaign.
That is not the issue here.
The issue is how to deal with this problem.
There are alternatives to simply kicking over the apple cart and abandoning the principle that campaign contributions should be limited.
One alternative is to gradually escalate the amount people can contribute to the campaigns of the other candidates when one candidate gives his campaign substantial sums of money. This is the approach taken by the McCain-Finegold Act in federal campaigns.
Yesterday I proposed other, better alternatives that deal with the television advertising that is the main, and an extremely expensive, way a political novice can gain traction in an electoral campaign.
I suggested we might (1) require Comcast to provide free or very low cost ads to political candidates or (2) limit the number of ads (or ad revenues) any station or cable company can take from one candidate or (3) tax spending on television ads over a certain threshold and use that money to level the playing field with other candidates.
These are more complicated ideas than simply blowing the contribution caps up entirely. And there is no question that powerful political interests will oppose them. But if won’t take those interests on when the future of our democracy in Philadelphia is at stake, then it is hard to take you seriously when you say you are motivated by principle on this issue.
And I will be honest and say I don’t know which if any of my ideas can be done by the city. I don’t have access to Council’s legal staff at City Hall. You do. Why don’t you ask them?
This is an issue that affects not just Philadelphia but the whole country. It really would be inspiring if Philadelphia, the birth place of American Independence and our Constitution, were the first city to deal with the problem created by expensive television advertising and the ability of millionaires to rise to political prominence because they can buy more TV ads than anyone else.
And it would be an example of real leadership if you were to do what our best politicians do, take advantage of an emergency—even if it is an emergency you have created—to address problems that have languished for a long time. If you truly believe we have to do something to address this issue now, why don’t you take advantage of the situation to think about improving the way we run elections?
And if you can’t find a way to do that, then just let it go. Tom Knox is still new to most of us. And he is unlikely to get elected Mayor—unless you hand him an issue he can use to pummel your candidate, Bob Brady. And it is not obvious that, apart from the issue you are creating, Congressman Brady is going to be hurt all that much by Knox. This is not an election in which racial divisions are going to be paramount. And Congressman Brady is going to be a very good candidate and will raise more than enough money to run a strong campaign. (That is not an endorsement, just an observation.)
In the meantime, it is critical to the future of this city that we defend the principle and practice of limiting campaign contributions to political candidates. For the problems created for our city by one millionaire running for Mayor pale in comparison to the evils that results when hundreds of millionaires use their campaign contributions to shape public policy in the city to serve their own ends.