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Wilson, Sowards talk about money in politics

The U.S. Capitol building (Photo by Heath Haussamen)

The U.S. Capitol building (Photo by Heath Haussamen)

While Heather Wilson says ‘sunlight is a great disinfectant,’ Greg Sowards says, ‘If politicians are dishonest, regulations are not going to keep them honest.’

This post continues a series on the U.S. Senate and 1st Congressional District candidates’ stances on various policy issues.

Heather Wilson says candidates should be “directly responsible and accountable for their campaigns” but supports allowing super PACs “until they are banned for everyone,” while Greg Sowards opposes restrictions on political spending.

Wilson, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, said she opposed the McCain-Fiengold campaign finance act as a member of the U.S. House because she thought the courts would probably rule it unconstitutional. The Supreme Court did toss out parts of the law in its Citizens United decision.

As a result, Wilson said, campaigns and parties operate within the confines of contribution limits and have to disclose funding, but no one else has to.

While she said we’re better off “if candidates are directly responsible and accountable for their campaigns,” until that happens, “My position is the same as President Obama’s: Until (super PACs) are banned for everyone, they should be allowed to operate in New Mexico.”

Sowards, on the other hand, said super PACs aren’t the problem, and neither is money in politics.


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“To assume that money spent on elections is the cause of our problems in Washington is a stretch,” said Wilson’s opponent in the GOP Senate primary. “If we, the American people, have become gullible to the point where 30-second sound bites take the place of thorough candidate research, then we probably have the government we deserve, or soon will have.”

Sowards added that he doesn’t support restrictions on political spending, or disclosure requirements beyond those that already exist.

“If politicians are dishonest, regulations are not going to keep them honest,” Sowards said, though he added that he supports term limits as a way to reduce the amount of money spent on elections.

The candidates made their comments in response to questions from NMPolitics.net about the influence of money in politics and ethics reform. NMPolitics.net gave the candidates no word minimum or limit, telling them to say what they had to say. The only criterion was that they not engage in personal attacks.

Here are the questions NMPolitics.net asked on money in politics and ethics reform:

  • The influence of money in federal races is arguably becoming more and more pervasive, especially with the Citizens United decision and the new prominence of super PACs. Do you view this as a good or bad thing? Why?
  • Sen. Tom Udall and others are proposing a constitutional amendment that would restore the government’s ability to regulate campaign finance. Do you support that proposal? Why or why not?
  • What ethics and transparency legislation would you push if elected?

Their responses, published in their entirety:

Heather Wilson (Photo by Heath Haussamen)

Heather Wilson

“I opposed the McCain-Fiengold campaign finance law because I thought it would probably be thrown out by the courts as unconstitutional. It was. As a result, we now have a hodge-podge of rules by which campaigns and parties operate within limits and must publicly disclose the sources of their funds, but no one else does.

“I think sunlight is a great disinfectant and that we are better off if candidates are directly responsible and accountable for their campaigns.

“When he was a candidate, President Obama opposed outside money. He opposed Super PACs for the first three years of his presidency. Now, he is setting up a Super PAC for his 2012 presidential race that will likely spend large amounts of money in New Mexico. My position is the same as President Obama’s: Until they are banned for everyone, they should be allowed to operate in New Mexico.”

Greg Sowards, left, campaigning for Congress in 2008. (Photo by Heath Haussamen)

Greg Sowards

“To assume that money spent on elections is the cause of our problems in Washington is a stretch. If we, the American people, have become gullible to the point where 30-second sound bites take the place of thorough candidate research, then we probably have the government we deserve, or soon will have.

“Freedom is a two-edged sword. When the government seeks to shield people from responsibility for their choices, history has shown us time and time again that dictatorships or worse are not far behind. Responsibility has its own reward, but the consequences are set – liberty spawns from an aware populous. We receive lesser freedoms from a distracted people as government grows. Government is growing at an alarming pace.

“(In response to the question about whether he supports Udall’s proposal to “restore the government’s ability to regulate campaign finance:) “Restore” the governments’ ability to regulate campaign finance? If that ability wasn’t in the Constitution in the first place, why were they regulating it? How can you ‘restore’ something it has never had? The Supreme Court has ruled that the government has never had that ability. Perhaps the question should be, should we have a constitutional amendment to allow the federal government to usurp the power to regulate elections that it has unconstitutionally regulated in the past and which the Constitution forbids?

“Such proposals will always favor the incumbents, because that is who votes on them. If we want to amend the Constitution, why not actually solve problems, like a balanced budget amendment along with term limits? Big-money investments in getting favorable politicians elected would lose appeal if the purchased politicians were termed out after a short but reasonable length of time. Problem solved!

“I do not feel that the federal government is efficient or effective at regulating much of what the Constitution actually obligates it to. Why unconstitutionally assign it things that are not in the Constitution to deal with? Hence, the need to amend the Constitution before proceeding. From my experience it is hard enough to comply with all the regulations and compliance requirements to run for office without setting up another set of hoops to jump through. Does anyone think the campaign-finance hoops that are presently required make politicians any more honest?

“I think the present reporting of funds is sufficient and thorough enough to indicate where the money is coming from and shine light on its sources. If politicians are dishonest, regulations are not going to keep them honest.

“I do not support restricting the money spent on races. Such restrictions will always favor incumbents who have a built in name-recognition advantage over any challenger, further putting to disadvantage any citizen who might suppose they have a better idea in the exercise of governance among the people. Again: Limit the time politicians can stay in office and you will limit the amount of money that will be spent to keep them there.”

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3 comments so far. Scroll down to submit your own comment.

  1. Ms. Wilson’s statement is so vague that I as a voter have no idea what she opposes or supports when it comes to campaign finance law reform.
     
    Very true, but despite her vagueness she managed to contradict herself.
     
    She says “I think sunlight is a great disinfectant…” That suggests that she believes that voters should have more information about candidates.  Yet when asked to throw some light on her positions, when asked specific questions, she doesn’t get anywhere near actually answering the questions. So she believes that sunlight is good, but she keeps voters in the dark about her positions. 
     
    Unlike Ms Wilson, Mr Soward answered the questions. You may or may not like his positions, but at least he has positions he isn’t trying to hide. I’d give him the points for honesty.

  2. Sowards has become a politician – he is way to wordy.

  3. Ms. Wilson’s statement is so vague that I as a voter have no idea what she opposes or supports when it comes to campaign finance law reform.

    The position and statements of Mr. Sowards strikes me as absurd.   
      
    “To assume that money spent on elections is the cause of our problems in Washington is a stretch.”

    Are you kidding us, Mr. Sowards?   Of course our system of legalized bribery of our elected leaders is a big problem.   
        
    “If we, the American people, have become gullible to the point where 30-second sound bites take the place of thorough candidate research, then we probably have the government we deserve, or soon will have.”

    Uh-huh.  The problem is the voters.  Sure.   

    “Big-money investments in getting favorable politicians elected would lose appeal if the purchased politicians were termed out after a short but reasonable length of time. Problem solved!”

    So simplistic, Mr. Sowards.  First of all, things have not been cleaned up in states with term limits for state legislators.  Second, it just gives staff more power cuz the new legislators take time to figure out what they are doing.  Third, we still just have one round of “purchased politicians” after another.  Fine, says Mr. Sowards, they are corrupt but they won’t be in there long.  They’ll all still be corrupt but they’ll revolve in and out faster.   

    “If politicians are dishonest, regulations are not going to keep them honest.”

    Of course the rules make a difference, Mr. Sowards.  If you can’t take $100,000 from an industry you are supposed to be overseeing, you will do a better job overseeing that industry. whether it is Wall Street banks or mortgage lenders (where the Great Recession was caused by lack of oversight which was purchased by campaign cash) or whether it is oil companies in the Gulf or whether it is Defense contractors.  Are you aware of Congress’s oversight role, Mr. Sowards?  
    “Again: Limit the time politicians can stay in office and you will limit the amount of money that will be spent to keep them there.”

    Untrue, Mr. Sowards.  Term limits may solve other problems, like slowing down generational change and the arrival of new ideas, but term limits will not clean up the ethics of Congress nor restore the independence and integrity of our public leaders.  For that we need to change our campaign finance and lobbying laws and rules — and enforce them.

        

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