Education Matters: Why not take private money out of politics?

Editor's Note: Numerous instances of plagiarism have been discovered in Dan Kimber’s “Education Matters” column, which ran in the News- Press from September 2003 to September 2011. In those columns where plagiarism has been found, a For the Record specifying the details will be appended to the piece.

The founders of this great nation had the foresight to separate government and religion, reasoning that the one has no business mixing with the other.

The wisdom of that separation, despite periodic efforts to establish a state religion, has been demonstrated throughout our country's history. But there is another separation that never has existed in this country, nor likely ever will, even though it involves a force as powerful as religion and more influential in determining how we govern ourselves.

I refer to money mixing in with politics. I wish that our founding fathers had addressed that connection by enacting laws or establishing precedents, or even by writing a few lines in our Constitution (we can still add an amendment). I wish that they could have envisioned the poisonous combination that occurs when private money is rendered to politicians seeking election to public office.

From my read of American history, that suggestion has always fallen on deaf ears. Money gets things done, including buying the loyalty, and votes, of people we choose to lead us. What's the use in fighting a fact of life, as many view the connection?

Raising funds for a political campaign is an integral part of our election process, whether we are talking about federal, state or local contests. The situation in Glendale with Advanced Development and Investment Inc. has gotten messier and more complicated following disclosure of campaign contributions to City Council members by the developer through his subcontractors. I happen to believe that the present council is one of the best ever in Glendale's history. Despite that, each council member has learned the lesson that all politicians at all levels now regard as part of the job description: It takes money to get elected and stay elected.

We've seen how efforts to limit the size of political contributions are easily circumvented and how difficult it is —the above scandal, which continues to unravel, is a fine example — for a candidate to know exactly where those contributions come from. When the prospect of conflict of interest is raised, we are left wondering who knew what (or should have known), and when they knew it.

The pattern is a familiar one that starts with a revelation of a misdeed, then an accusation, followed by public outrage and finally an outcry for tighter controls. We learn that a few skunks can pollute a large area and even though we know the basic cause, we end by throwing our hands up in dismay, figuring that such pollution is the nature of the beast.

I am left with the same question. Why can't we, at least in local elections, ban all private money from ever finding its way into political campaigns? Why can't we have more public forums and debates, with the positions of each candidate published daily in local newspapers, all paid for by the government?

Why can't we, the people, insist that legislative power is not for hire? As it is now, we have elected officials from one end of this country to the other spending inordinate time on fundraising. They do so to the exclusion of their legislative duties, and they become beholden to the very special interests that they are supposed to regulate.

Is it so farfetched to propose that we might unburden our politicians from hunting down where each and every donation dollar comes from by making government the sole contributor? If that means a slight re-allocation of our taxes, think of the benefits: Politicians working to earn our votes instead of pandering for money; corporations and unions attending to their own affairs instead of using their resources to influence legislation; elections with a level playing field having merit, rather than money determining the outcome.

I imagine there are a number of people reading this now who might be thinking, "Get real." There are forces arrayed against public financing of political campaigns, and special interests so thoroughly enmeshed in the way we are governed, that merely suggesting a change in business as usual is messing with forces that have operated in this country for hundreds of years.

Despite that, the separation that "never has been," is not necessarily consigned to "nor ever will be." Holding public office carries a sacred trust and it's not too much to ask that our elected officials be above suspicion. For too long, there have been too many that are beneath contempt.

DAN KIMBER taught in the Glendale Unified School District for more than 30 years. He may be reached at

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