Friday, June 18, 2010

It’s Time to Save Democracy in Maryland

By Eric Luedtke.

When I made the decision to run for office, I spent the first few weeks of the campaign meeting with community advocates and progressive organizations seeking their support. Almost to a person, they asked me the same question. They did not ask why I wanted to run, or what I would do once I was elected. The question they asked was, “How much of your own money are you going to put in?” This is what politics in Montgomery County has become – a money race in which the wealthiest have a distinct advantage.

The single greatest threat to our democracy is money. Any astute political observer can list dozens of issues on which the voices of regular people are shut out by large campaign contributors. Campaign contributions are why BP was allowed to cut corners in their offshore drilling operations, leading to an untold environmental calamity in the Gulf. They are why the coal industry has been able to skate by with weak enforcement of safety regulations, leading to the deaths this year of 29 miners at a Massey Energy mine in West Virginia. They gave tremendous power to the large banks and lenders who created the housing bubble that precipitated our current recession.

And this problem has now trickled down to our state and our county. In Annapolis, electric ratepayers matter less than energy companies. Family farmers and environmentalists take a back seat to big ag. Small business owners are ignored while mega-corporations get handouts.

In our elections, we are seeing candidates put $10,000, $25,000, even $100,000 of their own money into campaigns. For the first time this year, we may see candidates lend their campaigns more than they will earn during the four years of a General Assembly term. For a public school teacher like me, or a nurse, or veteran, or any of the professions where personal wealth takes a back seat to service, it means we see fewer and fewer people like ourselves in government. It means we have less of a voice.

The movement to remove the influence of money from politics transcends political boundaries. It is an issue for anyone who believes in democracy. And it is no longer a hypothetical national issue for Marylanders. It is no longer only a fight for Congress to take up. It is our issue, in our communities, in our counties. And it is incumbent on each of us, candidate and voter alike, to make it an issue in the elections this fall.

More than two centuries ago, America was founded on the premise that all men are created equal, that we should all have a say in our government. We have strayed from that goal, allowing the corrupting influence of money to infect our political process. That must end. It is time to pass a strong public campaign financing bill in Maryland. It is time to check a Supreme Court that seems intent on giving free reign to special interests. It is long past time to define money for what it is: currency, not speech.

Eric Luedtke is running for Delegate in District 14.