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There oughta be a law

Freeman Courier of Freeman, South Dakota

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Perhaps you have heard, in 369 days there will be a presidential election. That, arithmetic fans, is more than a full year. I am tired of the noise already.

The campaign seems to have lasted years by now. Obscene amounts of money have been raised and spent. The Republicans have held four cattle calls called debates. Several candidacies have withered on the vine sending presidential hopefuls back to their day jobs. The nightly news and their 24-hour siblings bombard us with details of speeches we do not care to hear, quarrels over language and the pompous posturing of potential presidents seeking to prove that they are the baddest dude on immigration or government spending. All this and not one ballot has yet to be cast or counted.

I am fully aware that presidential races have historically started years before the actual election. In college, I read Theodore H. White's classic, The Making of the President, 1960. In it he details how the little known junior senator from Massachusetts organized a presidential campaign planning committee shortly after the 1956 election. John Kennedy, then, began quietly touring the nation making speeches, befriending local Democratic leaders and collecting favors to position himself for the primary season, which started in March of 1960. Other potentials candidates were doing likewise, but the general public was blissfully ignorant of the machinations. As I write, that ignorance, indeed, sounds blissful.

In recent years, the circus has moved above ground. Instead of quiet dinners with local party leaders, office seekers are holding political rallies. The media is sponsoring "debates" with so many participants that only the loudest are heard. The early start makes the campaigns extremely expensive. Candidates must quickly raise truckloads of cash to fund staff, expert consultants, advertising and travel. The reality is fundraise or die.

So while no actual ballots may have been cast, voting has been taking place. The votes are cast in dollars. While thousands of Americans have donated to their favorite candidate, the real influence is with the small clan of donors writing checks in six or seven figures. The New York Times website lists 66 individuals or organizations who have already contributed a million dollars or more. (The largest donor gave $11.3 million). Since the maximum permitted donation to a candidate by an individual is $2700, this money is funneled to "independent" super-PACs openly aligned with an individual candidate. The dollar-shaped ballots have driven several candidates from the race because they could not attract the support of billionaires. It violates my definition of democracy.

Due to the nonstop quarrelsome rhetoric and the backroom money mania, my political enthusiasm has evaporated People, the election is still a year away! How do we stop the madness?

Well, there oughta be a law. Congress should outlaw the declaration of candidacies more than a year before the election. Prohibit fundraising events, debates, rallies, slick logos and TV ads. Maybe we should include visits to "Saturday Night Live." Political Action Committees should be similarly regulated. Postponing the opening gun of the race would save bales of money, shorten the stressful campaign marathon for contenders and improve the focus of the electorate.

I suppose some provisions of such a law would twist the Supreme Court's robes in a bunch. Somewhere a crafty lawyer could find a violation of the rights of a candidate or a big wallet donor. Giving money is now a form of protected speech. This noble effort could die by judicial decree.

So there oughta be a constitutional amendment. The constitution is never unconstitutional! We have changed the founding document 27 times. Once more a noble idea should be rendered permanent (until it too is changed).

Therefore I propose the following amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

Proposed Election Reform Amendment: No candidate for election to Congress or the Presidency shall in any guise commence a campaign for such office prior to January 1 of the calendar year of said election. A candidate shall not be permitted to announce his/her intentions to run for such office, organize a committee to support such a campaign for office, raise funds or accept donations for the support of campaign activities, advertise or promote a campaign nor cause or permit others to do so on their behalf.

It is such a simple, elegant plan that it obviously has no hope of receiving bipartisan support. It would certainly make New Year's Day interesting as candidates compete for airtime between football games. No doubt, someone would open their campaign in Times Square at12:01 a.m., a new version of Midnight Madness. Imagine Christmas without political news or photo-ops.

Oh well, perhaps I'll just boycott the news media (except weekly newspapers) until after the party conventions.

Dennis Schrock is a veteran columnist for the Freeman Courier.

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Original Publication Date: November 5, 2015

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