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Some Interesting Thoughts on Campaigning

This comes from ESPN.com’s “Tuesday Morning Quarterback” column (aka: Gregg Easterbrook). Mr. Easterbrook is not your typical sports writer. He is actually a fellow of the Brookings Institute, and his weekly football column is full of little tidbits from a wide breadth of topics, and tons of football. To spare those not interested in football, here is the relevant section (unedited, all links and typos are in the original) of today’s article:

It’s election day — get out and vote. If you don’t vote, then promise never to complain about the decisions made by government.Reader Michael Thum of Dallas writes, “Every election year I get very frustrated when the president and vice president of whichever party is in power spend vast amounts of taxpayers’ time and taxpayers’ money to campaign for their party. Why should I pay for Bush and Cheney, or now Obama and Biden, to campaign for partisan purposes? Obama and Biden have each been to Delaware three times in the last month to campaign, for instance. Their parties may pay part of the cost, but why is this tolerated in the first place? The public elects high office-holders to do the people’s business — not to shill for political parties.”

First, there should be resign-to-run laws. Why does the federal taxpayer shell out millions of dollars in salary, benefits and security every second year for members of the House to campaign for the Senate, and every fourth year for members of the Senate to campaign for presidency? If you told your employer you planned to spend months doing little or no work while you campaigned for an office — yet expected full pay and benefits as though you were performing your duties — you’d be laughed out the door. Yet politicians of both parties routinely abuse the public trust in order to campaign for themselves at public expense.

A few states have resign-to-run laws, but this form of abuse of public trust continues regardless. For instance Charlie Crist, the sitting governor of Florida, has been using most of his time in the past year to run for the United States Senate, while Alex Sink, the sitting chief financial officer of Florida (essentially, the comptroller) has been using most her time in the last year to run for the governorship Crist is vacating. On paper, Florida has a resign-to-run law. But it’s toothless, as these examples suggest.

Most states simply allow office-holders to ignore their duties and campaign as they please on the public dime. In Colorado, Ken Buck, a Colorado district attorney, has been traveling the state campaigning for the Senate, rather than performing his duties. And Buck is a Tea Party type who constantly claims other people are wasting public money! These three examples — Crist, an independent; Sink, a Democrat; and Buck, a Republican — show that office-holders of all stripes routinely exhibit contempt for the public when the only thing they really care about, self-promotion, is at stake.

Ignoring your public duties to campaign for yourself is bad enough. As Thum points out, many politicians ignore their public duties to campaign for their parties. Democrats Obama and Biden, and Republic House leader John Boehner, have been crisscrossing the nation stumping for Democrats and Republicans — Obama and Boehner were both campaigning in Ohio on Monday — while taxpayers pay their salaries and benefits, plus security and other costs. (The president requires security at all times, of course, but security personnel needs rise when he travels.) Here is the president’s schedule for last Friday. Here is the vice president’s schedule for last Tuesday. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney misused the public’s time to campaign for their party, too. It was wrong when Republicans did it and it’s wrong when Democrats do it.

The First Amendment prevents government suppression of speech, including protecting office holders against suppression of their political speech. But the First Amendment doesn’t create a right to received public pay for pursuing partisan goals on the public’s time! If you told your employer you wanted to be paid to spend the day campaigning for a political party — which is what vice president Biden did last Tuesday — you’d be laughed out the door. Why is it OK for national leaders to ignore their duties, while stuffing public money into their pockets, as they campaign for partisan gain?

He’s raised this issue before, but I’m pretty sure I haven’t heard either conservative or liberal media outlets decrying this waste of taxpayer funds by all sides of the political spectrum. Maybe if they did this, more would get done and we would have less of the annoying political attack adds to put up with! In a related note, he also loves to decry the wasteful use of bodyguards by minor political figures who simply waste taxpayer funds to take state police with them when they travel so that they can feel important. (There’s a section on that later in this week’s column as well.)

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