OP-ED: Wow! Talk About Entitlements: Check the FEC

By Joseph J. Honick
Joseph J. Honick
Joseph J. Honick

Americans, and likely the whole world, are now being “treated” to what a democracy  looks embarrassingly  like in the runup to election seasons.  This fall, of course, we (at least those showing up to do so)will elect a whole new House of Representatives(though most will be the same faces when the dust settles.)  But elections often remind us of slogans and issues that keep being repeated.

One of the overly done terms tossed around is “entitlements.”  To the Republicans, it means bulging sums being doled out to non-productive do-nothings who believe they are “entitled” to your money and mine in a process called “redistribution.” What is not mentioned and maybe winked at are the “entitlements” that come and go to major corporations and called “bailouts” in the hundreds of billions…and “stimulus” and “TARP” funds in even larger sums…and subsidies originally meant to keep farmers producing but go to the likes of Monsanto that got into the agricultural game.

But another “entitlement” most Americans probably know nothing about are those funds doled out by the Federal Election Commission  (FEC)  to both parties for presidential campaigns.  For example, both major political parties were to receive public funding and both received “initial” payments of $17,689,800 from the U.S. Treasury for “planning and conducting their respective 2012 presidential nominating conventions.”  According to the FEC, these were funds to which they were “entitled.”

In fact, each major party convention committee is “entitled” to received $4 million, plus an adjustment for inflation.

And you probably thought they had to come up with their own dough, given the reports of many millions tossed around like pennies just to promote people for party nominations by the GOP.  The Democrats already had their man.

Where did all of this get started?

Well, the Federal Election Commission administered public funding program in 1976.  Eligible Presidential candidates used federal funds in their primary and general election campaigns, and the major parties used public funds to pay for their nominating conventions.  Actually, however, legislation for public financing of Presidential candidates was first proposed in 1907 by then President Theodore Roosevelt in his State of the Union Speech ALONG WITH a proposed ban on private contributions.  He had some naïve idea we could implement some means to reduce campaign corruption.  Had he succeeded as he wanted, we might have avoided the present state of affairs that  --  financially at least --  creates a form of political pornography given the obscene infusion of what may be a couple of billions to sell the presidency about the way they used to sell cigarettes: with phony ad that the stuff was “good for  your throat and health.”

It would take more pages than the FEC’s own excellent brochure on the subject to detail all the aspects of history and implementation of public funding for campaigns.  And it should be noted that a good bit of the money does come from the taxpayer opportunity to note his or her desire to contribute a buck on the tax form.  What is no doubt clearest is that few Americans really know about this subject or the comic opera legal cases between the parties that actually reached the Supreme Court for adjudication.  And it should be said, parties getting these funds do have to make reports.

From this writer’s viewpoint, it would be more seemly if both Presidential candidates were to receive an equal amount of public funds to conduct their campaigns thus reducing or at least mitigating the kind of  shenanigans that now infect what should be the least corrupting election in the nation.  That said, however, it would be immediately contested as a violation of the First Amendment, and, by golly, that’s exactly what occurred in the now classic Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court, a decision that invites another lengthy article.  Suffice to say, the big money boys and girls of power groups from unions to corporations don’t want anyone getting in the way of their money dispensing machines.

In the end, the main point of this whole rant is for citizens to find out how their own money is cast upon the political waters in  ways so few actually realize.  It’s unfair to dump on the FEC for all of this since no matter what it does to meet its legal obligations, they’re just wrong from some direction or another.

For those who would like to become more educated on the subject, you can jazz up the information by http://www.fec.gov/pages/brochure/pubfund.shtml.  When you finish reading the material, you may well wonder at the spin put on our democratic(small d)election system taught in our schools to kids who have yet to learn we still do not have a one-person-one-vote system that promises the candidate who gets the most individual votes will win the election because of the additional confusing program called the Electoral College.

Knowing the facts is what we all have as a genuine entitlement.

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Honick is president of GMA International Ltd with offices on Bainbridge Island, WA.  He is an international consultant to business and writes on a variety of public affairs issues.

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