Escambia County gets piece of campaign finance history

Published 2:12 pm Wednesday, July 31, 2002

By By Brian Blackley, Publisher
The race for Sonny Callahan's U.S. Rep. District 2 seat was one of the most expensive congressional races in South Alabama history among the GOP candidates seeking to fill the position.
According to reports by the Mobile Register, Tom Young and Jo Bonner spent at least $2.2 million in their collective efforts to serve as our area's U.S. Representative. That's quite a price to pay for a position that pays $150,000 per year. Each candidate spent the at least six years' earnings in the House of Representatives to win the primary alone.
But it wasn't all - or even most - of their own money that the candidates were spending. Obviously fund-raisers, contributors and people with connections to the Washington, D.C., elite that the two candidates have ties to threw in some money. But it does show the extent people are willing to go to in order to win power and wield influence. And I am not referring to the candidates themselves.
In the past, I have thrown a few dollars at political candidates whose opinions were in reasonable unison with my own. Granted, my measly $25 or $50 contribution didn't make much difference in the scheme of things and I don't recall ever winning a political favor for a donation that would hardly feed my candidate one night on the campaign trail at a decent restaurant.
But small dollars are what elections should be about because small dollars come from the people. Recognizing the potential disasters we face when we allow influence peddling, our elected leaders have, over the last many years, passed tougher campaign finance reforms that make it much more difficult for the wealthy few to control the outcome of an election. After all, money talks and the bigger the money, the louder it shouts.
And, of course, there's soft money, that thing that the media began preaching about several years ago. I may be strictly limited in what I can donate to my favorite candidate, but the regulations for the money I can donate to my favorite party are much looser. And my party may want to support my favorite candidate in the upcoming election.
And so soft money was born.
I don't know the answer to campaign finance issues and I won't bother to pretend there is an easy answer. But there must be some way to get elections beyond the makeup and the 30-second television commercials. Candidates do need money to get out their positions on the issues, but I believe these positions are news stories and most media agencies will run these messages at no charge as they seek to offer election "coverage." And how expensive is a media package to create?
But to the candidates - and the people - this apparently isn't enough. The fund-raisers never stop and the cash spent continues to rise. And the candidates who spend generally win.
What happened to the town hall debate and the white horses and suits?
No matter how you slice it, it's flash, not substance, that continues to triumph.
Maybe things haven't changed all that much in the last 100 years. The idea is the same, even though the exact methods have changed.

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