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It's time to discourage the scoundrels

By Michael M. Bates
web posted February 21, 2005

Jack Paar told the joke about asking an old lady why she never voted. "It only encourages them," she explained.

During the tax season, it's a good time to point out that we have another opportunity to dishearten the scoundrels. Once you get past the personal identification information on Form 1040, the first question asked is if you want to give $3 to the Presidential Election Campaign Fund.

This is an excellent point at which to follow Nancy Reagan's guidance: Just say no.

Increasing numbers of Americans are doing exactly that. According to the Internal Revenue Service, the percentage of 2003 tax returns on which filers agreed to channel money to political campaigns was only 10.5 percent. In 1976 it had been 27.5 percent.

Perhaps folks are figuring out where that money is going. Perennial candidate Lyndon LaRouche has pulled down almost $3 million dollars in federal funds for his campaigns. Some of this taxpayer largesse came while Mr. LaRouche was in jail for tax evasion and fraud.

The Natural Law party, which peddles transcendental meditation as a cure for many of our national ills, received more than $350,000 for its 1992 presidential candidate.

Last year was typical in that other marginal candidates dipped deep into Washington's pocket. About one-sixth of Al Sharpton's money was federal funds. Dennis Kucinich qualified for almost $3 million, which represented just less than one-fourth of his total resources. The likelihood of either of these characters getting elected president is considerably less than that of Michael Jackson being hired as a youth counselor.

When anyone decides to give $3 to the Presidential Election Campaign Fund, it creates a shortfall that all taxpayers will have to make up. So we've created a situation in which everyone is forced to subsidize LaRouche, Sharpton and the other fantasizers.

Reacting to the diminishing public interest in monetarily backing flaky candidates, the Federal Election Commission's chairman and vice chairman recently sent congressional leaders a warning that the public-finance system could be "totally irrelevant" by 2008.

Their recommendations include raising the check-off amount on tax returns to $5 and doubling the maximum amount matched by public funds that candidates could collect. Goody, goody, gumdrop, yet another chance to toss even more money down the rathole. Isn't enough already wasted?

Even those lavish parties known as national conventions get public funding. Last year both the Democrats and Republicans were given about $14.6 million each to go through the motions of nominating their pre-selected candidates.

The days of smoke-filled rooms in which party grandees cut deals at the last minute to anoint their candidates are gone. It's been more than 50 years since a convention needed more than one ballot.

Now primaries and caucuses determine the nominee months before the convention. The vice presidential candidate is usually also named well in advance so as to avoid any possible surprises or unpleasantries when the fun seekers gather.

No longer are there heated struggles over what planks the party's platform will contain. In 1948, Democrats led by Minneapolis Mayor Hubert Humphrey adopted a resolution on civil rights for the platform. Many delegates walked out in opposition.

A comparable clash would never happen in today's climate. The conventions are carefully choreographed so as to present the candidates in the best possible light. They've become little more than taxpayer-paid commercials. And usually boring commercials at that.

So little of consequence takes place at national conventions that most television networks have dropped their gavel-to-gavel coverage. Spontaneity has been drained from the process.

A congressional bill was introduced last month that would prohibit the use of public funds for political party conventions. Ending all public financing of elections would be most desirable. Let the candidates, and the people who support them, pay all those millions of dollars.

Of course, those who see it another way will contend that in the grand scheme of things all that money is inconsequential. But as the late Senator Dirksen remarked, "A million here, a million there . . . soon we're talking real money."

Mike Bates is the author of Right Angles and Other Obstinate Truths, which is available at Barnesandnoble.com, Booksamillion.com, Amazon.com or iUniverse.com and can be ordered through most bookstores. This story appeared in the February 17, 2005 Oak Lawn (IL) Reporter.

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