Ballots over bullets: Require public financing for national elections as a way of disarming the NRA

Some wag on Facebook said she wished President Obama really would take our guns. That will not happen, and it shouldn’t happen. Certainly, it is too late: Guns outnumber people in this country. But then, I believe it has never been Obama’s intent to disarm America. Rather, he wants sane rules for owning and using guns. Not to belabor points made ad nauseam, but who needs an AR-15, like the one used in Orlando, and shouldn’t every sale of a gun begin with a background check, not a handshake in the parking lot of a gun show?

I don’t plan to spend the rest of this editorial real estate reprising the debate over the meaning of the Second Amendment. Instead, I want to propose that we lift the artificial muzzle of conscience that the National Rifle Association has placed on our lawmakers. The association wins whatever it wants in Congress by buying and cajoling lawmakers, appealing to their avarice, cowardice and fears of being unemployed. That is not news.

My proposal, simply put is: ballots over bullets.

Require public financing for national elections as a way of disarming the NRA, or at least diluting it. Take billionaire Brawny Brothers and special-interest groups out of political races so that candidates can rise and fall on their merits, without fear of being outspent by a lesser politician with an even lesser conscience.

Some say the real power of the NRA stems from its 5 million members: 5 million dedicated, voting members. Others point out that it works hard to cultivate its message among other gun owners who vote. But there also is no doubt that the NRA also effectively controls American politics through its lobbying and campaign spending. The NRA is not the top spender, but the money is significant. A New York Times article in January reported that the NRA political action committee “took in $31.3 million in the last three years for gun rights candidates and causes,” and chief lobbyist Chris Cox “is the ultimate arbiter of the coveted ‘grades’ the group gives political candidates, which can make or break a campaign.” It also reported that Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group, said the NRA did not disclose more than $58 million in political spending from 2008 to 2014. To be clear about the NRA’s influence, just listen to our Sen. Mitch McConnell, who told “Fox News Sunday” that regarding a Supreme Court nominee, he “can’t imagine that a Republican majority in the United States Senate would want to confirm, in a lame duck session, a nominee opposed by the National Rifle Association …”

Couple this gun-fueled fire hose of money with the unfortunate fact that members of the House of Representatives have to seek reelection every two years, which means they are running — and raising cash — the very day they are elected.

One can debate whether Sen. Bernie Sanders is the right candidate for the times, but he makes a lot of sense on a lot of issues, public financing being one of them. Public financing would help counter the Supreme Court’s dangerous Citizens United ruling in 2010 that lifted decades-old limits on campaign funding, allowing unlimited sums to influence elections. For her part, Hillary Clinton has called for campaign finance reform, “to get secret, unaccountable money out of politics …”

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So why didn’t Sanders opt for public financing? He said during an early debate, “It is a public financing system that everybody knows is antiquated. It no longer works. Nobody can become president based on that system.”

He is right.

The general election limit for publicly funded candidates for 2016 is about $96 million, according to the Federal Election Commission. That sounds like a lot. OK, it is a lot. But in 2012, Obama and Mitt Romney raised $1,072 million and $992 million, respectively, according to The New York Times. Obama spent $986 million, and Romney, $992 million. Who would want just $96 million? Oh, and of those amounts in the 2012 presidential race, the National Rifle Association of America Victory Fund spent about $9.8 million to defeat Obama, the Times reported.

So back to Orlando, where a nut known to the FBI bought a couple of guns and killed 49 people. Would universal background checks, or a ban on AR-15-type weapons, have stopped him?

No.

But if politicians could vote their conscience, rather than fear the NRA bullies, then maybe we would have better laws and regulations, which could have prevented such a tragedy. And maybe is good enough.

Said Obama in January: “Each time this comes up, we are fed the excuse that common-sense reforms like background checks might not have stopped the last massacre, or the one before that, or the one before that, so why bother trying. I reject that thinking. We know we can’t stop every act of violence, every act of evil in the world. But maybe we could try to stop one act of evil, one act of violence.

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