Editorial: Imagine there are no campaign war chests
The Greenfield Recorder
Thursday, July 07, 2016
It’s way too early to say who we might favor to replace state Sen. Ben Downing for the seat that represents western Franklin County.
But we do like the idea floated recently by one of the declared candidates for the seat that represents Conway, Shelburne, Buckland, Charlemont, Hawley, Heath, Rowe and Monroe as well as cities and towns in Berkshire, Hampshire and Hampden counties.
Democrat Rinaldo Del Gallo has called on his two fellow hopefuls in the September primary to agree to a voluntary limit in their campaign spending.
In an opinion-page column published in The Berkshire Eagle, Del Gallo, of Lenox, called on Adam Hinds of Pittsfield and Andrea Harrington of Richmond to agree to voluntary spending limits of around $20,000 in the current primary, and also to agree to limit political contributions and “independent” expenditures.
Del Gallo said having to raise larger amounts to run for office discourages good candidates from entering politics, leads to owing favors and creates situations where “politics becomes less about people and more about campaign donors, especially large campaign donors.”
“Politics should be about time with people, not raising money,” Del Gallo wrote.
He’s certainly right about that. At the national level, the amounts of money used to win elections is obscene, especially when the money comes from a select few millionaire or billionaire contributors rather than large numbers of small donors. How much of the time of our national leaders is spent raising campaign contributions, and how much time afterward is spent keeping track of favors owed and repaid?
Given the stranglehold on national politicians that recent Supreme Court decisions have allowed corporations and millionaires, maybe the most we can hope for is the victory of candidates whose deep-pocketed contributors we align with politically.
But does it have to be so bad closer to home? We’ve always felt that in local elections, even in the bigger communities like Greenfield, success still depends on shoe-leather canvassing and a solid reputation for honesty, smarts and hard work.
We wish for more of the same in our state elections, and we probably have a better chance here in western Mass.
Outgoing Sen. Ben Downing has a solid reputation as an honest, hard-working representative of the people, as does the entire Franklin County legislative delegation. But even he, from probably the most rural district, felt it necessary to raise some $860,632 in contributions over his decade in office. Happily most of that came in individual donations as small $25. Most were in the low hundreds, with a few $500 gifts (some from people with the same last name). His current war chest stands around $118,000.
Probably not much to worry about there in terms of undue influence.
But wouldn’t it be better still if there were less to worry about? Wouldn’t it be great if the costs of a rural campaign could be kept to $20,000 for a few ads and placards funded by mostly friends and family, not people, organizations and corporations currying favor?
The voters could learn about their candidates not from slick publicity campaigns but from personal appearances, independent news coverage and debates and forums around western Mass. Del Gallo has proposed such weekly debates or forums until the primary.
How serious he is about this proposal is hard to tell. He might simply be fishing for editorial sympathy.
His two opponents haven’t taken up the suggestion, yet. Call us dreamers, but we’d think a lot more of them if they did.