President Sandra Duckworth|
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President Sandra Duckworth
President Sandra Duckworth used as her theme Campaign Contributions – A Matter of Influence! when addressing the East Honolulu Rotary Club in early January.
Speaking, in part as a former elected official (Virginia), she spoke of abusive pressures from special interests, negative campaigning and mud-slinging. Sandra noted that public concern and outrage are at an all time high... the flames of public anger fed by revelations of widespread ethical and financial improprieties in Washington and in Hawaii.
Referring to the large sums needed to launch credible campaigns, she looked at the spending gap between incumbents and challengers which has widened in the last decade according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan, Washington, D.C.-based group.
"In theory, the campaign finance reforms enacted after Watergate were intended to prevent wealthy interests from buying the ear of elected officials with huge donations. Campaign contributions and expenditures are regulated to ensure public accountability and to prevent corruption."
Continuing to explore the issue, Sandra noted that statistics from '88 show the costs of campaigning have escalated: special interest contributions have achieved dominance; contribution limits have been circumvented through creative uses of "soft money" and the "bundling" of contributions.
Reviewing negative campaigning - often fingered for voter apathy, Sandra stressed that the contemporary system of media campaigns and attempted voter manipulation is a national disgrace, with information on candidate s positions all but vanished under the fake facade of stage-managed photo opportunities and issueless TV spots. Further, "more and more campaigns now turn on each other with salvo after salvo of negative campaign ads."
Quoting Bruce Kelknor's book, Dirty Politics, "Today, there is not. a major campaign for public office waged without. help from one of the expert political campaign firms. Of course, any politician should have a PR adviser. There is, however, a significant difference between the advice of a PR practitioner and that of a professional winner of elections. ...the professional campaign manager … is in the business of winning campaigns. He must win to stay in business.
He comes to politics in the role of the hired killer. What needs to be done, he will do. If the opponent's record can be distorted effectively, he will undertake to do it. Why use the whole truth when half will do? Half a truth is like half a brick, you can throw it twice as far."
Sandra asked, "Is the best defense against such distortions and lies the vigilance of the opposing candidate and party? Do we, the voters, have no responsibility? Have we lost our sense of fair play?"
"And, what role should ethics play in all of this? Most of us would say that political ethics should be a central feature of good governmental decision making. ...members of Congress often feel pressure to repay those who helped them win. Is this ethical? ... to what extent do elected officials feel beholden to their financial constituency, at the expense of their electoral constituency?"
She noted that the pattern of corruption may... be said to exist whenever an office holder who is charged with doing certain things is induced by monetary or other rewards to take actions which favor whoever provides the reward and thereby damages the people which the official governs.
And so, finally, Sandra asked, "What do we do? We the people, must demand honesty, integrity, and ethical behavior from our elected officials. We must demand reform. Restoring civility and accountability to the political dialogue may not answer all of the Nation's ills, but it might halt the slide."
Sandra closed with these thoughts, "'One person, one vote' implies that democracy is the free exercise of choice by an informed electorate. I suggest to you that the increasing influence of special interest money and the proliferation of negative non-issue campaign practices constantly reduces the opportunity for a free and informed choice. If left unchecked, it could become as constraining as the one party, one candidate charade in totalitarian regimes. In one stunning, unbelievable stroke, the opening of the Berlin Wall reminded us all of the power of concerned and outraged citizens to effect monumental change. But the fact is that the hard-won right to vote in meaningful elections - the symbol of democracy around the world - is in fact becoming a dangerous matter of indifference in the "land of the free.'"
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