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Money and Politics

There is simply no way to get money out of politics.

I know this might seem depressing. In my heart, I want to believe we can have a political system free of corruption, cronyism, and special interest influence. I want to believe that we can have elected officials who actually try to do the right thing, instead of just responding to those who bankrolled their campaigns. However, it doesn't look like it's possible.

Look at the current presidential contest between George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry. In 2002, President Bush signed into law what was supposed to be a comprehensive campaign finance reform bill. This election cycle has seen dozens of special interest groups, from Swift Boat Veterans for Truth to Moveon.org, dump millions of dollars into the election.

By pouring money into politicians and elections, corporate interests have developed a stranglehold over our government.

No matter what happens, people with a lot of money will figure out how to influence the men running for President.

And why shouldn't they? Rich people have a lot at stake in the upcoming election. They've got to make sure they get more tax cuts and those big corporations need to grease the all-important pork barrel politics that dominate Washington, D.C. These fat-cats don't need to care about public education and Social Security. Why should they worry, when they can pay for private school and loot their employees' pension fund? Rising healthcare costs? No need to worry about that if you can pay any medical bill with pocket change.

So I don't begrudge the uber-rich who invest their money in the political process. It's just good business sense. They've gotten tax cuts, relaxed environmental regulations and a general license to do whatever they want. Of course, Republicans have always been the party of the wealthy, but quite a few Democrats do what they can to help the wealthy soak the rest of us. By pouring money into politicians and elections, corporate interests have developed a stranglehold over our government. All these dollars have given politicians a clear mandate- give special breaks to the rich, decrease responsibility for huge companies, and ignore the middle class.

Now, this might seem bleak for the rest of us (I define "rest of us" as anyone without a private jet). But the truth is we can have just as much power as someone with a million or so to toss into the political process.

Several politicians have shown that a tremendous amount of money can be raised online through websites and e-mail lists. This method allows huge numbers of people to contribute a small amount, cutting out most of the costs typically associated with political fundraising. It also opens up the possibility of mass participation in politics.

Think about it-what we have now are a bunch of candidates who mostly get large amounts of money from a small group of wealthy people. Not surprisingly, the political agenda is defined by those with the cash to buy access. Now, imagine a political leader who gets a small amount of money from a large number of people. What would their mandate look like?

Instead of some pie-in-the-sky proposal about giving Social Security over to Wall Street, we'd have a political leadership willing to do what poll after poll has shown the American people want-make sure there is a strong safety net for the elderly.

Everyone knows the economy is changing. So we need a public education system that prepares our citizens for more than a job at Wal-Mart. How about free college education at any public university? If we're going to have a high-tech economy, we'd better have a high-tech workforce.

Finally, how about healthcare? Right now, the discussion about how to solve the current medical crises is dominated by big-pocketed HMOs and mammoth insurance companies. What if instead, the loudest voices were the millions of doctors, care providers and patients? What if the 74 million Americans who went without healthcare coverage in the past two years had a voice in the debate? What would the proposal look like? You can be sure it wouldn't be a small tinkering with the system. We'd actually have a politician that might offer a real solution.

We might not be able to get money out of politics-but I think we can change how money gets into politics.

Ben Waxman is a student studying politics at Juniata College.