Sunday, October 15, 2006

Campaign Finance: Equality Cannot be Restricted

Campaign financing has gotten out of control. In the 2004 US Presidential election, George W. Bush spent $367,228,801 and John Kerry spent $326,236,288. For both candidates, that entailed spending more than $5 per voter. Such wanton and indiscriminate spending occurs for one reason: candidates are able to spend such huge amounts on their campaigns. Indeed, if they did not, they would be drowned out by their more free-spending opponents. But such spending allows the more wealthy to exert their influence and thus receive more widespread support than less wealthy but perhaps more qualified candidates.

The Federal Election Campaign Act 1971 initiated campaign reform that placed legal limits on campaign contributions. The act stipulated that candidates must disclose sources of campaign contributions and campaign expenditure. It also introduced public financing of campaigns but such funding would be available to candidates only if they accept limits on campaign expenditure. For candidates who have enough campaign funding, and do not need public financing, there is no incentive to accept such public financing. Thus, such rich candidates must not abide by any limits in campaign expenditure, while other less wealthy candidates, who must accept public financing, are entitled to limit their spending.

While such campaign finance reform certainly contributes to more transparency in campaign contributions and expenditure, it also effectively weeds out those not capable of raising enough funds. Arthur M. Okun, a notable economist, states that: “public financing of campaigns for the Congress and the Presidency is an indispensable ingredient in any satisfactory recipe for reform.” But must the taxpayer really pay for candidates that he does not support? Of course not, and thus public financing is both impractical and morally indefensible. Okun goes on to state that “society must erect a sign that clearly says ‘no trespassing’ on the right of universal suffrage.” And with this statement, I completely agree with Mr. Okun.

Yet Okun contradicts himself. We must, according to Okun, curtail one freedom (that to spend money as we see fit) with another (that to participate in fair elections.) And indeed, does public financing really ensure a fair distribution of campaign finance? Surely loopholes will be uncovered, and corrupt politicians will be able to exercise their support for certain candidates without regard to individual equality.

Instead, a universal limit on campaign spending must be instituted, which, while not limiting the distribution of information to voters, allows all candidates to participate fairly in an election, regardless of personal wealth or lobbying capability. Such a limit would also prevent unscrupulous lobbying activities during campaigns, such as those that lobbyist Jack Abramoff participated in. Is such a limit a restriction on personal freedom? Yes, for those running for office, and perhaps those wishing to support a certain candidate. The freedom that it ensures for millions of others, however, allows it to be defensible, and, indeed, necessary.

The Constitution outlines explicitly that every American, regardless of race, sex, or personal wealth, has an equal right to vote. That right has been violated. And in order to restitute it, action must be taken in order to ensure equality in campaigns. Such action should not include limitations on voters’ rights, and thus should entail universally employed measures which contribute to equality without curtailing the freedom to choose.

Monday, October 09, 2006

France to Ban Smoking in All Public Places: An Expansion of Freedom?

France has banned smoking in all public places (not including streets and hotel rooms) effective January 2008. An apparant curtailing of freedom for smokers. Or, looked at from a different perspective, an expansion of freedom for those who do not have to suffer from inhalation of second hand smoke.

So which is it? Well, both, obviously. So it is then, in deciding whether to institute a ban on smoking, the responsibility of government to determine whether banning smoking would help more people than it hurts. Government must also make a value judgement of smoking, and consider the moral implications of a ban.

Considering that smoking is said to result in an extra tax burden - in order to fund rising health expenses as a result of smoking-related diseases and ailments, and considering the potential harm that smoking results in for both the smoker and those around him, a ban on smoking in public places may seem to be a government action that is beneficial to society.

Not so fast.

It is not the government's responsibility to exercise moral judgements on smoking, nor is its responsibility to curtail the freedom of individuals who would like to smoke. It is indisputable that smoking brings pleasure to smokers. And regardless of the possible harm that smokers can cause non-smokers through so called "passive smoking," a ban on smoking severely limits all people in their choices - smokers and current non smokers alike.

Would a tax on cigarrettes make sense? Yes, because it still gives choice to the individual. A ban eliminates choice, and imposes the government's values on people who should have the right to make their own decisions regarding smoking.

In a related topic, one of which I have the same opinion as on governmental bans on smoking, New York City is considering a ban on trans-fats in order to curb obesity. Government argues that it is helping those who would later run into serious health risks due to obesity.

According to the government.

Why must the government be allowed to decide what is good for us, when we are clearly rational individuals capable of making those choices for ourselves? We must be given the choice to make choices that benefit ourselves and oftentimes that is very different from what the government believes to be beneficial. We do not need a paternalistic state in order to be prosperous and happy. We need freedom.