Prepared Statement of Ron Paul Before the House Oversight Committee
Thank you for the opportunity to be heard on what I believe to be a vital matter to the health of this republic; the integrity of the federal election process. The actual origin of the campaign finance problem is, although few members of Congress seem interested in discussing it, the greatly expanded role of government this country is currently enduring. The proper solution to the campaign reform issue, as well as critical issues related to excessive lobbying and term limits, is to greatly reduce the role of government which now concentrates extensive governmental power in the hands of relatively few lawmakers. By drastically reducing the power these lawmakers currently maintain over virtually every aspect of citizen's lives, the sphere of influence enjoyed by campaign contributors, lobbyists and political action committees will quickly dissipate. Thus, it is the incentive to influence politicians which must be minimized; not placing limits on spending. Controlling how one chooses to spend one's own money is not only a restriction on individual liberty but neither does it solve the problem. Moreover, a profusion of rules will damage
the honest politicians while merely serving to drive the dishonest politicians further underground. Limitations on spending, which is required in a greater degree to unseat incumbents, will only further entrench the "insiders" so despised by an ever-growing field of apathetic voters.
Because few amongst this body speak of limiting the power and influence wielded by politicians in a government which has "gotten too big for its own 'enumerated-power' britches," perhaps the only real reform with any merit is to strike down the barriers currently erected which serve to quash political opposition to the current big government political factions. For this reason, and under authority of Article I, Section 4, of the U.S. Constitution relating to the Times, Places and Manner of holding federal elections, I introduce H.R. 2477 and HR. 2478. Rather than trampling individual rights of free speech, freedom of association and economic liberties, I introduced these bills as "real campaign reform" which actually enhances fundamental liberties and expands the exchange of political ideas. These bills embrace rather than disgrace the first amendment.
(HR 2477 -- The Voter Freedom Act of 1997 prohibits States from erecting all-too-common and excessive ballot access barriers to candidates for federal office, HR 2478 -- The Debate Freedom Act of 1997 prohibits recipients of taxpayer-funded campaign matching funds from participating in debates to which each of those qualifying for such funds are not invited.In Florida, for example, ballot access restrictions are so oppressive, only one third-party candidate for U.S. senator has been on the ballot since 1914. In the 1994 Congressional elections, almost half the voters in Florida went to the voting booth only to discover there was no House candidate on the ballot The reason is that eleven of Florida's 23 congressional districts had only one candidate running, and under Florida law, when only one candidate is on the ballot and there are no write-in candidates, the office is removed from the ballot. In other words, thanks to restrictive ballot access laws, you end up with NO choice on Election Day.
If market participants conspired to lock their competitors out of the consumer goods market the way Republicans and Democrats have locked their competitors out of the political market, their CEOs would be prosecuted under anti-trust laws.
Republicans and Democrats defend these incumbent protection packages by claiming the government has to keep the number of candidates to a minimum to avoid "voter confusion." However, when it comes to election laws, Floridians aren't confused at all: an overwhelming 79% favor making them more open, according to a September survey by Rasmussen Research.
Florida, however, is merely the tip of the electoral iceberg. West Virginia, where (for office other than president) the law requires the petitioner to say to everyone he approaches, "If you sign my petition,
you can't vote in the primary." Georgia, which requires 5% of the total number of registered voters to sign for a minor party or independent candidate for district office. Oklahoma requires 40,000 signatures just to get on the ballot for president, or 50,000 for full party status, and then won't even permit write-ins. Louisiana won't print party labels on the ballot for office other than president unless the group can persuade 5% of the voters to register as members, or unless the group polled over 5% for president at the last election. And in the state of Maryland, rules are so restrictive that no non- major party candidate for Senate has been able to qualify for the ballot since that States' ballot access laws have been in effect.
The status quo on the debate access front is no less bleak. The fact that 90 million Americans of voting age refused to vote in the 1996 election indicates that a distressingly high number of Americans have little faith in the federal government. Moreover, over 40 percent of American voters identify themselves as neither Democrats or Republicans, and they continue to demand alternative views. It is unconscionable to continue to exclude from debates the candidates who represent the views of 40% of all American voters especially when the current system of public financing forces voters to, at the same time, subsidize the ideas of candidates with whom they disagree. This, while those same candidates refuse to debate people who support their views.
Polls taken just before the 1996 presidential election showed that only 24 percent of Americans said they were following the election closely, compared to 42 percent in 1992, when Ross Perot was included in the debates. The first Clinton-Dole debate garnered the lowest television rating in 36 years, with fewer than one out of three Americans watching. The TV audience for the Kemp-Gore vice presidential debate dropped by nearly 50 percent compared to four years ago. Americans aren't just tuning out of the debates, they're tuning out of the political process, and that is an ominous sign in a democratic republic.Efforts by independent candidates to sue their way into the Presidential debates were turned back on the ground that debate sponsors were not government actors and, therefore, not covered by the First and fourteenth Amendment guarantees of free speech and equal protection. The attempt to circumvent this barrier by attacking the tax-exempt status of debate sponsors on the grounds that they were not nonpartisan, but bipartisan, was blunted by rulings that the challengers lacked standing.
In Fulani v. Brady, 935 F.2d 1324, 1336-7 (D.C. Cir. 1991) cert. denied, 502 U.S. 1648 (1992), Judge Abner Mikva dissented from the appeals court's denial of standing to independent presidential candidate Lenora Fulani, stating: "But whatever its proper role in correcting imbalances and imperfections in the status quo, government certainly must not abandon its posture of non-partisanship. The government of any democracy, let alone one shaped by the values of our Constitution's First Amendment, must avoid tilting the electoral playing field, lest the democracy itself become tarnished."
More recently, the same court rejected H. Ross Perot's challenge to his exclusion from the 1996 presidential debates on the ground that the FEC had not yet ruled on his complaint. The court knew full well that the bipartisan commission, consisting of three Democrats and three Republicans, had no intention of acting until after the election.
H.R. 2478 addresses the Court's legitimate concern by prohibiting recipients (not debate sponsors) of taxpayer-funded campaign matching funds from participating in debates to which each of those qualifying for such funds (or on the ballot in 40 states) are not invited.
The means by which we use the current political climate to effect campaign finance reform that will stimulate the kind of competition that will, in turn, make the electoral process -and the government that regulates it -- more democratic and responsive to the American people. I offer and encourage your support of my simple reforms... Constitutional reform.., real reform.