Not to pick on California Senator Barbara Boxer, but I was looking for an example of how our (or their) system works and found this at www.nytimes.com today: "The proceeds from twin fundraisers will be split between Boxer and the Democratic National Committee; ticket prices range from $100 for a reception to $17,600 for dinner with the president.” [Calif. Sen. Boxer Finds Rocky Re-election Terrain, Associated Press April 17, 2010]
$17,600 is about half the annual take home pay of the average worker in California.
Californians have been trained to think that a bribe consists of a suitcase full of paper United States money given to a politician (or policeman or bureucrat). But a large election donation all to often is simply a legalized bribe.
According to the Supreme Court (of California's overlord, the federal government of the U.S.A.) the rigth to free speech includes the right of the rich, and of business corporations, to give unlimited "donations" to political campaigns.
That is the main reason we are in such a fiscal mess. The $17,600 crowd wants a return on its investment. Often millions of dollars of taxpayer money are allocated to please someone who has given only a few thousand dollars in donations. On a larger scale, millions may be spent in donations and lobbying to get billions in targetted expenditures. But the same people want low taxes. So most of the tax burden, and almost none of the benefit from government spending, falls to the middle class.
I am a strong believer that even those of us who are near the bottom of the economic pyramid should set some money aside to help candidates we like. Even near minimum wage workers, and certainly skilled workers, could contribute $25 to their favorite candidate once every two years. We have numbers on our side: 5,000 $25 donations is $125,000, enough to give an honest candidate a chance in a city council or State Assembly race. But we don't have a culture of giving to election campaigns in the working class. When unions were stronger, they collected dues and used some of those dues for politics. Workers got used to not worrying about it, and never thought about this consequence of letting the unions die. [Not that many unions did not have their own corruption issues.]
Here is a simple cure: give tax credits for voting and for making political donations in California. Say $100 for every time you vote, up to $100 per year for donations to candidates or campaigns for propositions. To make this really attractive, don't make people wait to file their taxes to get the credits. We have computers, we should be able to set up a system that can do this easily with minimal fraud.
If even 50% of the voters of California took advantage of the election campaign contribution tax credit, this would wash away the advantages of large single campaign donations.
More at www.CaliforniaDemocracy.org