Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

8-23 Financing Political Campaigns

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- What does Republican gubernatorial candidate John Dendahl think about public financing of political campaigns?
Gov. Bill Richardson's task force on ethics has suggested public financing of campaigns as a way of addressing voter perceptions that big contributions are buying officeholders .
The task force also looked at statements of former state treasurer Michael Montoya explaining that he began to get himself in trouble when he wrestled with how to handle the large campaign debt he accumulated while running for office.
Dendahl has said that one of his campaign issues will be the excessive war chest his Democratic opponent has built up. I wrote a column two weeks ago listing the ethics panel recommendations and referring to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that limiting campaign expenditures violates free speech guarantees.
A reader in California informs me that there are ways to get around that problem. Craig Dunkerley, a volunteer with the California Clean Money Campaign , says systems of public financing that have been working quite well in Arizona and Maine for almost a decade solve that problem with matching funds provisions.
Under those laws, if a wealthy candidate decides not to accept public financing in order to avoid spending limits, opponents who receive public financing will get matching funds, up to a cap, so they can continue to be competitive.
Dunkerley also says if contributors, instead, donate to independent expenditure groups that run ads targeting a publicly-funded candidate, the same matching funds are triggered with the same effect.
Evidently the laws are proving to be effective and are being accepted by the public as a way to keep elections clean. They evidently aren't being quite as well embraced by candidates, especially by Republican candidates, according to an election source I contacted in Arizona.
Imagine the money Dendahl would be raking in at this point. He is reported to have about $200,000 in his campaign coffers while Gov. Richardson is wallowing in millions.
I didn't bother contacting Dendahl about his view on campaign financing, because I already knew his answer. He has long been an avid supporter of campaign donations being a protected form of free speech.
As a libertarian at heart, Dendahl can't be accused of opposing limits on campaign expenditures just because Republicans typically have an easier time raising money. He actually believes that's what's right.
In fact, Dendahl is quoted by Jim Belshaw in the Albuquerque Journal as saying five years ago that public financing of campaigns is a "proposal only a communist could love."
That was 12 years after the fall of communism in Europe and Dendahl still was worried about it creeping out from under the bed in America. He may have moderated a little in the past five years.
Now it's socialism Dendahl is worried about. Responding to a report that many New Mexico schools are failing their students, Dendahl said it is because, instead of the three R's, New Mexico teachers are spending time on the three S's -- sexuality, self-esteem and socialism."
I was around teachers much of my earlier life and found most of them committed to teaching whatever the school board directed. And I never met many socialist school board members. I do know there is a lot of pressure to teach human sexuality in the schools.
What I want to agree with Dendahl in a big way on, however, is his self-esteem remark. As schools are preparing to open for the year, the usual talk is circulating about making all our students feel good about themselves.
Some schools prescribe uniforms so no child will be better dressed. No valentines can be given unless there is one for everyone. Scores will not be kept at games and trophies will be presented to all students.
Maybe that's the socialism Dendahl is talking about. Those kids are not being prepared for the competitive world they soon will enter.
WED, 8-23-06

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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