Sunday, August 19, 2007

Forum Attendees Develop Shared Vision on Issue of Money and Politics in Democracy

Finding ways to develop public policies toward money and politics in a democracy was the purpose of a deliberation I conducted through University of Missouri Extension.

Nine persons attended and deliberated all sides of this issue before making choices and finding common ground.

Money has always been a political problem, but today, there is a widespread perception that the political thirst for cash is out of control. Now so much money changes hands in politics that a cloud of suspicion grows.”

Darkening this cloud above our political system is the daily news about the staggering amounts of money that lobbyists spend to kill legislation or obtain tax breaks and favored treatment in regulations.

Americans believe the entire political system must be done in the spirit of one person, one vote. The significant level of public alienation from politics calls into question the legitimacy of our democrat form of government.

The focus of this forum was whether Americans should reform the campaign fund-raising system, rein in lobbyists and politicians thirst for money or publicize all political donations, but not regulate them.

Most everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and by the end of the forum a shared view had developed.

“The diversity of political viewpoints and backgrounds at the forum, different as they seemed, appeared to be moving on a similar path be the end of the forum,” wrote one attendee on a post-forum questionnaire. “I saw the value in listening with more respect to others opinions but I also learned a lot from the content.”

Based on pre- and post-forum questionnaires, participants did change some of their views as a result of the forum.

For example, before the forum, 40 percent of participants said they were not sure about what should be done on this issue. After the forum, 90 percent said they had a definite opinion about what should be done.

A majority of attendees, 90 percent, agreed that “high campaign costs discourage good people from running for office.”

There was also a strong sense that “current election laws favor those who already hold office,” a statement that found support from 100 percent of participants.

The statement, “candidates depend too heavily on large campaign gifts from wealthy donors,” was agreed with by 100 percent of participants.

It is interesting to note that only 40 percent of participants felt that “restricting political donations infringes on the free speech of citizens.”

When the forum was over, post-forum questionnaires showed that participants had moved toward favoring some specific actions. Attendees generally agreed with getting rid of lobbyists, restricting (or greatly limiting) donations to campaigns, and providing free television time and public financing for qualified candidates in state and federal campaigns.

There was also some discussion about a participant’s idea to get Representatives and Senators out of Washington, D.C. altogether. His idea was to let members of Congress work out of their current homes, in their legislative districts, and linking Congress together electronically so business could be done more efficiently, for less money, with less support staff, and without continual pressure from lobbyists.

At the end of the forum, 90 percent of attendees favored this statement: “Reduce the power of special interest by using public funds to finance elections even if that would cost taxpayers more money.”

This statement, “Curb the power of lobbyists for special interests even if that means reducing the power of interest groups that speak for you,” was favored by 100 percent of attendees, including an active member of AARP who attended the forum.

On the other side of the issue, none of the attendees favored the removal of “restrictions on political donations even if that means that some candidates will have much more money than their opponents.”


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