Evanson: Part time mailman, full time patriot


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A mailman landed a gyrocopter on the Capitol lawn.

Doug Hughes had a mission. His mission, done purely through activism to the highest extreme, was a failure. Why it was not successful is due in large part to the words behind his actions reduced to mere whispers among the loud media spectacle surrounding the scene. You don’t land a gyrocopter on the lawn of the nation’s legislative body and say something more profound than that event which took place — being able to fly an aircraft, undetected, just feet away from where hundreds of lawmakers work.

But this 61-year-old mailman did have something meaningful to say. What he delivered (or tried to deliver before being detained by police) were 535 letters, one for each member of Congress. In those letters were his ideas of campaign-finance reform. It is a worthy cause, given the power of the dollar to influence legislation in politics. Money does play a role in who does (or does not) stay alive in early months after campaign announcements, thereby giving candidates a chance to face off in the political boxing ring.

The amount of money chucked into the brimstone of presidential and congressional elections has soared dramatically over the past decade — doubling from $3 billion spent in 2000 to more than $6 billion in 2012. The noble but crass mailman had some harsh words to say about the “corruption” that needs to end in Congress.

It’s naïve to believe that Congress is inherently corrupt. But the current campaign-finance system of how money goes in, and from whom it comes from, has created a political atmosphere that depends wholly on money as a representation of a viable candidate. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that corporate funding of elections cannot be limited, because it is “protected free speech” under the First Amendment. Elections can now be run like a Wall Street trading floor, with congressional candidates as the potentially rising blue-chip stock and independent corporations acting as wealthy investors with one hand on the telephone and another on an expenditure report.

Money doesn’t buy an election. Studies have been done to justify this theory. Economist Steve Levitt concluded that even if a candidate doubled (which is highly unlikely) her or his campaign spending, the result would be limited to 1 percent or less of an increase in the popular vote. The United States is still a democracy, where at the end of the day, after all the money is spent and the campaign ads are bought and watched, people still have to go to the voting booths. Elections are still, and will forever be, decided by the people of the United States.

It’s what happens after our Congress and president is elected where money is the ultimate influencer, because campaigning never ends.For those elected as U.S. representatives, the turnaround for campaigning against for newly elected congressmen comes as quick as two years.

The big question then permeates: Who is going to donate to my next campaign? This is a big issue in the round-the-clock campaign structure that has been taken to further extremes by unlimited spending by campaign contributors.

Hughes’ decision to put his life on the line to protest the status quo, although extremely illegal and shortsighted, is, in a lot of ways, extremely patriotic. His support for democratic ideals should be mirrored by more Americans. Campaign finance has needed stricter reform, and it’s needed it for a long time — but you can probably hold off on flying a helicopter to D.C. Doug’s got it covered.

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