Friday, January 22, 2010

Won't Somebody Please Think of the Corporations?

The view from the other side.

Dozens of current and former corporate executives have a message for Congress: Quit hitting us up for campaign cash.

Roughly 40 executives from companies including Playboy Enterprises, ice cream maker Ben & Jerry's, the Seagram's liquor company, toymaker Hasbro, Delta Airlines and Men's Wearhouse sent a letter to congressional leaders Friday urging them to approve public financing for House and Senate campaigns. They say they are tired of getting fundraising calls from lawmakers — and fear it will only get worse after Thursday's Supreme Court ruling.

And here you thought this would be a problem for the average citizen. Corporate CEOs are tired of looking out the window to see some long-faced Congresscritter standing there with his or her nose pressed up against the glass, begging for table scraps like a lost puppy left out in the rain. It's breaking their hearts that they can't feed them all.

Congressional candidates who find themselves attacked by a flood of special-interest TV ads in the 2010 elections will likely reach out to their party's biggest donors for money to help them counter the blitz.

"Members of Congress already spend too much time raising money from large contributors," the business executives' letter says. "And often, many of us individually are on the receiving end of solicitation phone calls from members of Congress. With additional money flowing into the system due to the court's decision, the fundraising pressure on members of Congress will only increase."

These beleaguered CEOs sent the letter through Fair Elections Now, a group working to pass public campaign financing legislation. Thursday's decision gave them a new sense of urgency, realizing that they can't change their phone numbers to hide away and still have customers find them, too.

Here in Michigan, campaign finance guru Rich Robinson doesn't forsee a big problem. Anyone with half a brain and money to spend has already worked around the law, and there are only so many broadcasting hours in the day they can fill with this drivel. And when you really stop and think about the last two election cycles, how could it possibly get worse?

The Supreme Court's 5-4 decision Thursday seems certain to boost the political power of big business and labor. But Rich Robinson of the nonpartisan Michigan Campaign Finance Network said the ruling won't have much effect on Michigan campaigns because "it is highly unlikely that there are any corporations in Michigan that don't know how to get in the game."

He noted that the state's political parties and the Chamber have spent around $50 million during the past decade for candidate-focused television issue ads in gubernatorial and state Supreme Court campaigns, spending that was allowed in Michigan even before Thursday's ruling.

Robinson would like to see disclosure laws passed in the state, but, like the CEOs above, and the citizens weary of being subjected to the endless mudslinging during election years, we are going to find that trying to get these guys to cut off their own oxygen will be impossible. Think about buying a TiVo with your tax refund. Might be the best investment you can make.

Maybe we can get those CEOs to join us in a ballot proposal...