When these officials were running for office, the state capitol was pictured as nothing but a cesspool of special interests gaining particular favors and tax breaks at the public’s expense. But once in office, the cesspool apparently has been turned into a hot tub where legislators are wined and dined, and the campaign dollars abundantly flow.
Although in office for two months, 42 legislators have held fundraisers during the recent special session. The president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, Don Briggs, was quoted in the Advocate recently saying: “We approach them. They approach us. There is not a legislator over there that doesn’t have fundraisers.” So it’s politics, as usual, at the state capitol.
Louisiana’s new governor is not above the fray in raking up the campaign cash, particularly from his opponents. Gov. John Bel Edwards was blistered in criticism when he was campaigning this past fall by oil and gas, chemical industry, LABI and various other business interests. But once in office, the new governor made no bones about why he was calling on his adversaries to cough up campaign funds. “They opposed me last year, and I’m governor this year,” he was quoted as saying. So to be in the political mix, the governor seems to be saying that you have to “pay to play.”
More than one half of current legislators were elected without any opposition. And all of them had a significant campaign war chest built up. It’s no secret that in the overwhelming majority of elections held in Louisiana, there are three key elements in getting elected. The first is lots of campaign dollars. The second is more campaign dollars. And I’ve forgotten the third.
Louisiana regularly ranks as the most expensive state for campaign spending per capita, in the nation. Out-of-state corporate and special interest money regularly floods into the campaign coffers of Louisiana candidates. In his bid for reelection four years ago, former Gov. Bobby Jindal had more contributions from outside Louisiana then from within. One might wonder why almost 1000 California contributors were so interested in Louisiana issues.
There is a simple and constitutional way to keep Louisiana elected officials focused on Louisiana issues. A candidate for public office should only raise campaign funds in the district from where he or she is running. If a candidate is running statewide, he or she should raise all their financial resources within the state. If a candidate is running parish wide, the limits should be within the home district. Legislators would be limited to raising campaign dollars from within their respective districts. Simple. Keep fund raising local. Make the candidates focus and be responsive solely to the voters in the boundaries that put them in office.
To be sure, there would be loud protests from lobbyists who hand out the campaign dollars to gain their “special access.” And incumbents, who can work the system from day one in office, would object at having to forgo all the many out-of-district fund raising
opportunities. The voters would be the beneficiaries. But don’t count on any groundswell of change.
The recent Citizens United Supreme Court decision was touted as a catalyst for major campaign changes. But as long as out of state money floods into any state, it’s going to be the same old, same old in both Baton Rouge and Washington. Remember the 1960s song by The Who called “Won’t be Fooled Again?” There’s a line that goes: “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” The more there is talk of change at the state capitol, the more it would seem to stay the same.
People used to complain that selling a campaign was like selling a bar of soap. But when you buy soap, at least you get the soap. In this campaign, you just get two guys telling you they really value cleanliness. — David Brooks
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.