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Brand 'Em

Burning to solve campaign financing

By Bob Harris

EVER SINCE the Supreme Court ruled that private campaign financing is protected by the First Amendment, rich corporate donors have been guaranteed unfair influence.

The limited reforms available simply can't solve the problem entirely, although current proposals to abolish soft money donations to political parties would be a good start.

In the meantime, however, our only hope is to devise a system that keeps voters fully informed of exactly who is financing each candidate, a method that is undeniable, visual, and permanent.

My suggestion?

Forehead branding.

Just as Puritans branded adulterers 300 years ago, all candidates for public office who accept corporate money should have the company logos of their sponsors burned directly onto their heads, so voters will never forget or confuse their allegiances.

The corporations won't mind; they'll be glad for the extra advertising. And since any candidate who won't surrender the ad space will be replaced by someone who will, politicians will rush to support the measure as well.

The measure would transform American politics instantly. Imagine Bob Dole playing tough on drugs with a big red Marlboro logo right between his eyes, or Newt Gingrich blustering about Family and Flag with Rupert Murdoch's signature straddling his eyebrows.

They simply couldn't be taken seriously.

And how long would liberal faith in Clinton last if he had "Goldman Sachs" imprinted at the hairline, a Seagrams bottle painted on his lips, and Mickey Mouse ears implanted in his nose?

The free market may finally solve something after all.

THE REPUBLICAN Congress and the Democratic president are all bragging about the new budget, which supposedly balances five years from now.

As we should know by now, anything that Clinton and Gingrich can both agree on has got to be a bad idea.

The budget balances in 2002, but only if all their estimates are right on target and nothing important changes between now and then. Is the future that easy to predict?

Sure, as anyone who bought a Commodore 64 can tell you.

We saw this game before when Congress passed a law intended to balance the budget through mandated spending limits. Grab-Rodman-Hollering, it was called, or something like that. Did it accomplish anything? No. By pushing the actual date of balance well into the future, one group of pols took credit for something they were actually asking a later group to do.

The media applauded, and nothing happened.

By 2002, most of the current crew will be off collecting fat paychecks for attending board meetings and lobbying the new guys.

So if the budget doesn't balance, they won't take the heat.

And even if it does, non-partisan estimates show that from 2003 on, the deficit will increase again rapidly. So what's the point?

The whole thing's a bigger spin job than Twister.

Fact is, balancing the budget isn't that urgent a deal. Today's deficit is less than a quarter of what it was back in the Reagan years, and as a percentage of GDP, it's way smaller than the deficits of most industrialized nations.

The phony rush to balance is really just a fig leaf to cover some pretty skanky priorities.

There are tax cuts in the budget. But non-partisan figures say that 98 percent of the inheritance and capital gains cuts go to the richest 5 percent of us. As usual.

The IRA tax break goes to the richest 20 percent. And the two tax cuts that go to the middle class aren't indexed to inflation, so they'll quietly disappear before long.

As promised, there are also spending cuts: $14 billion from Medicaid (while last year Congress gave the military $12 billion it didn't even ask for), and over $100 billion from Medicare. Tobacco subsidies and gold-plated stealth bidets in the Pentagon privies remain untouched.

This budget is about as sensibly balanced as Boris Yeltsin on roller skates in an aftershock.

They shouldn't get away with this.

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From the June 12-18, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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