In the News
In the Know
reform. ; After losing his first election in 1755, George
Washington took the novel step of entertaining prospective voters in 1757 with a lavish buffet at the polling booth.
ot that he wanted to be, but the father of our
country is also the father of campaign finance N
In 21st-century politics, it would be called “voter education.” In 1757, it was “a barrel of punch, 35 gal. of wine, 43 gal.
of strong cider and dinner for his friends,” and it cost 39
pounds and 6 shillings (about $195). It worked, and Washington was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses.
; But his new colleagues also promptly passed a law barring candidates “or any persons on their behalf” from giving prospective voters “money, meat, drink, entertainment
or provision or … any present, gift, reward or entertainment etc. in order to be elected.” ; Where is the House of
ON THE COVER: CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: JOHN CORBITT; ANDREW HETHERINGTON; MARK MATCHO THIS PAGE: JOHN CORBITT
Burgesses when we need it! The U.S. Supreme Court, with
huge assists from a federal appellate court and a dysfunctional Federal Election Commission, has unleashed a torrent of private cash into the public political system. That in
turn has filled the airwaves, phone lines
and mailboxes with political advertising—
most of it negative—degrading the candidates and trivializing the process.
Two problems have arisen, just as the
burgesses anticipated. First are the candidates and the persons acting on their behalf. Candidates for federal
office will raise and spend billions of dollars this year. President
Obama already has raised twice as much as Mitt Romney. By Super
Tuesday, this year’s presidential candidates and their supporting
super PACS had raised more money than was spent in the entire
2000 presidential campaign. Money doesn’t magically appear. Office holders devote enormous time and energy to fundraising—time
and energy diverted from the lawmaking and governmental duties
they were elected to perform. By any measure, the impact of this
time loss in Washington’s output is clear.
The second concern is the flood of advertising, overwhelmingly
negative. And if it’s bad now, wait until October. The concern here
is that the venomous rhetoric leaves no space for substantive discussion of the serious challenges the next president and Congress
face. Imagine if the constructive energy devoted to producing this
venom were devoted instead to explaining why gasoline prices are
so high or the complexity of dealing with Iran’s nuclear program,
or the maze of practices and competitive forces that produce the
world’s highest health care costs. Or the choices for strengthening Social Security, or the consequences of closing tax loopholes.
There’s a third problem, and it starts the day after Election Day.
After the fiery, super PAC-financed rhetoric of this season’s angry
and negative campaign, where do the winning candidates find any
room for compromise? —Jim Toedtman, Editor
AARP Bulletin April 2012, Volume 53, No. 3 (USPS Number 002-900; ISSN 1044-1123) is published monthly except February and August by AARP, 601 E St. N.W., Washington, DC 20049 (telephone: 1-888-687-2277). Internet site: aarp.org/bulletin, “The Newspaper of 50-Plus America.” Sales and
Marketing Offices: AARP Publications, 780 3rd Avenue, 41st Floor, New York, N Y 10017. One membership includes spouse/partner. Annual membership dues are $16.00, including $4.03 for an annual subscription to AARP THE MAGAZINE and $3.09 for an annual subscription to the AARP Bulletin.
A three-year membership is $43; a two-year membership is $30. Dues outside domestic US mail limits: $17 a year for Canada/Mexico; $28 for other international countries. Periodicals postage paid at Washington, D.C., and at additional mailing offices. Canadian Publications Mail Agreement
Number: 40030163 Return undeliverable addresses to AARP, 2835 Kew Drive, Windsor, ON N8T 3B7. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to AARP Bulletin, c/o AARP, P.O. Box 199, Long Beach, CA. 90801. AARP Bulletin is a registered trademark of AARP. Entire contents copyright © 2012 by AARP.
Printed in the USA. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent policies of AARP and should not be construed as endorsements. The mention of a product or service herein is solely for information to our readers and may not be used for any commercial purpose. AARP, which was
established in 1958, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization with millions of members ages 50 and older. State offices are located in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.