Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Politicians need to open about their income and contributions

Jack is the owner of a diner in Pontiac. He services up good food to working class people from the neighborhood and others that work in the area.

Jack immigrated to the United States from Iraq between the wars. He has known first hand corrupt politicians and officials. He lived under a dictatorship that only held elections to appease the voters. Where money came from to run campaigns and pay people was not known. That is no way to run a government he would often say.

When he came to America, Jack just knew things would be different. He quickly adds that it wasn’t the money. It was the way the government is run. But, it hasn’t turned out like he thought.

“They are all corrupt,” he was ranting the other day. “Every politician that is elected is corrupt.”

Thinking he meant the local politicians and officials from the city, I begin to quiz him about what he was really saying. There may be a few corrupt people working in Pontiac, but for the most part they are just everyday people.

“No, I don’t mean them…” he said with a roll of his eyes. “I am talking about everyone that goes to Washington.”

He must of seen my own roll of the eyes. Seems that most people think politicians are corrupt, even though they don’t have any proof. Everyday people, just like those that come into his diner, knows it for a fact… mostly because everyone else thinks so.

“Look, every time Verizon, or GM or some other big corporation gives money to one side, they give money to the other side,” he started explaining. “If they were giving money for the right reasons, they wouldn’t give money to both sides. Do you think anyone in this restaurant right now would give money to someone if it weren’t in their best interest?”

“This was a hard working class of people, they won’t give any of the little money they do have if it wasn’t for something good,” I had to admit. “But, giving campaign contributions is legal. It isn’t corrupt if it is legal. Besides, the Supreme Court said not only can they, but they don’t have to reveal themselves to the public.”

“But, the outcome is the same,” he challenged back with a growing passion. This was clearly a subject he had strong feelings about. “If I kill someone, it doesn’t matter if it was legal, the person is still dead. It is the same here. Politicians go to Washington and even if they don’t want to, they learn how to be corrupt.”

Jack’s words were harsh and passionate. But, his comparative approach to his home country and the United States did have merit. If the contributions to a politician come from a business or organization that disagreed with his or her political positions, most politicians will still take the money. Not that they can be blamed. Even the most honest politician knows that it takes money, and lots of it, to run a campaign. Politicians that have little money because they take limited contributions from only individuals most always loses to the one with lots and lots of money.

We as individual voters, not unlike all the people that eat lunch at Jack’s, need to know where that money is coming from for campaigns. It doesn’t matter what the Supreme Court says. If we as voters will not support a candidate, even if they take positions we agree with, unless they reveal all their sources, it would stop.

An example is Carol Moseley Braun. She is one of six candidates, including ex-White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, who made the cut yesterday in the run for Mayor of Chicago. She first said she wouldn’t release here income tax records. Then, changed her mind and did release them. But, now, she refuses to release details about her income.

If open government has any meaning, it means that the lives of politicians lose a lot of privacy when they run for office. Just as it should since they are suppose to be representing people, just like us, at Jack’s.

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