It was refreshing to come across some recent good news from Washington for a change, news that is a small step towards reviving the concept of living in a free country in America. It is indeed a small step since it is not the law of the nation yet, but any step in the right direction of liberty is positive news.
The House Of Representatives recently passed H.R. 359, a piece of legislation that has two components. The first component is the termination the funding program for the Democratic and Republican parties to use taxpayer money to fund a portion of their Presidential conventions every four years. All costs, including security costs, will be the responsibility of each political party.
Political conventions are basically relics from our political history. It was there that the two parties gathered their delegates and voted, often many times, to chose their Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates every four years. However, over time, the parties implemented caucuses and primary elections in each state which were used to divvy up delegate votes for the nomination. Thus, almost always, the convention attendees convene already knowing who their candidates will be. The convention then becomes nothing more than a pep rally for the party’s supporters, a public relations bonanza from a press coverage perspective, and a four-five day reason to party, partly at the expense of the taxpayer.
Several sources have estimated a taxpayer bill of around $100 million for the 2004 Presidential conventions. According to a Parade magazine article from several years ago, $100 million could hire 2,400 additional teachers for a year, pay for basic health insurance for 25,000 American families, or provide 41 million school lunches for needy children Thus, in the future, if this bill is approved, there may be more teachers, more lunches, more insurance coverage, or a smaller Federal deficit. If the two major political parties still want to party at their conventions, H.R. 359 would make them pay for their party themselves.
The second component of H.R. 359 would terminate the Presidential Election Campaign Fund. This fund provides Federal tax dollars in the form of matching funds to candidates in Presidential political primaries if those candidates agree to certain spending and contribution rules and limits. This fund basically subsidizes the two major political parties and their continuing grip on the reins of government, allowing taxpayers to pay for their needs rather than have the candidates themselves prove their worth and get support on their own merits. As we all know, all but two of all contending candidates for President are eventually successful so that millions and millions of taxpayer dollars are wasted on losing campaigns.
The fund is financed by checkoffs on taxpayer income tax returns and then put into the hands of the political class who fund their own candidates with these funds. The funds rarely, if ever, go to new and secondary parties, the funds are primarily used to cement the duopoly power of the Democrats and the Republicans. However, participation in the program has dropped from 28.7% of income tax returns designating money for the fund in 1980 to only 7.3% of income tax returns designating money in 2009. Thus, even the taxpayers have realized that continuing to subsidize the low performing members of the Democratic and Republican parties is no longer a good idea.
Passage of this component would save taxpayers over half a billion dollars over the next ten years while requiring all candidates to stand on their own merits when it came to raising campaign finance donations. Elimination of this fund would not infringe on anyone’s freedom of speech rights since they would still be free to contribute to any candidate they wanted. They would actually be freer since they would control where their funds went, it would not be left up to the political class. This might also help newer, smaller political parties get established to challenge the two existing parties.
So let’s see what we would have:
- Less wasteful spending of taxpayer money since if the politicians want to party at a convention, they have to do it all with their own funds, not the funds of the taxpayers.
- Voters would be freer since they would control where their political donations went, it would not be put into a giant slush fund controlled by the existing political class.
- Smaller parties would have less competition for funding since the Presidential fund would be eliminated, leveling the field for fund raising across both established and new political parties.
The vote to move on this legislation was 239 for it and 160 against it. It came out of a very vibrant process that the Republicans introduced last year called You Vote. Every week over the past six or seven months, ordinary American citizens could go to the You Cut page at Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s website and vote on one of several wasteful spending programs that the Federal government operates.
When Pelosi and the Democrats controlled the House, these cost cutting initiatives were either voted down or blocked from even coming up for a vote. Now that the Republicans are in charge in the House, we may finally see some sunshine be shone on wasteful government spending. This bill, H.R. 359, is the first You Cut winner to be approved. The process is an excellent way for Americans to get involved in their government’s priorities, an option that was not available under Pelosi’s watch.
Reducing government spending increases your freedom by either reducing your taxes today or relieving some of the astronomical national debt the political class has piled up over the years. Getting campaign funding sources out of the hands of the established political machines also saves money but levels the funding competition between new and established candidates/incumbents and new and established political parties, increasing our freedom of choice. Having input to what the government spends our taxpayer dollars on via You Cut increases our freedom to determine how our government behaves, putting them back under our control and not allowing them to control us.
The big question is where will H.R. 350 go from here? Will the Democratic controlled Senate and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid even consider it? Will Obama sign it if it gets through the two houses of Congress? Given its downside of funding political activities of only the two major parties, the upside of increasing our freedom in many different ways, and the severely decreasing popularity of the program, there is no reason to keep this program and its two components alive any more. It’s a first, small step back towards freedom. Let’s see if Harry Reid in the Senate and President Obama in the White House take the next two steps towards approval and freedom.