Madison County Opinion...

SEPTEMBER 10, 2003

By Frank Gillespie
The Madison County Journal
September 10, 2003

Frankly Speaking

The question of campaign finance
This week, the United States Supreme Court is taking up the question of campaign finance. They will decide the constitutionality of the McCain-Feingold bill. This bill attempts to control the excessive collecting and spending of “soft money” by national political organizations. It also limits the publishing of political ads that do not endorse a candidate in the weeks prior to an election.
If it is upheld, this bill will cause these types of donations to be redirected into state political parties. States are likely to be flooded by money from outsiders trying to impose their ideas on local populations.
I have mixed feelings about this. Generally, I am of the opinion that people with money have the right to spend it any way they wish. If they want to buy time on TV to argue a political position, they should have the right to do so. At the same time, I believe that only the voters of a political district have the right to decide who their representative will be.
Here, then, is my idea of how politics should be financed. First, contributions to political candidates should be limited to those eligible to vote in the election. For example, 9th District Representative Charlie Norwood, and any one who runs against him, could only accept cash donations from people eligible to vote in the 9th District. That would eliminate all special interest groups, labor unions, corporations, political organizations or individuals from outside the district.
Obviously, labor unions, corporations, political action committees and such have no vote. They have no place in deciding who will represent the voters of the 9th District. Since money is speech, such suppliers of money should not be permitted to influence the vote.
On the other hand, political education programs, support for specific political ideas and the philosophy of government are legitimate subjects for such groups to address. It is proper for labor unions and others to run ads supporting “progressive” political ideas. It is equally proper for the Cato Institute and others to publish material promoting limited government and self determination. As long as such efforts do not endorse or oppose a candidate by name, there should be no limit on their spending.
The question is about donations to political parties. Donations to political parties that are to be used to assist candidates should come only from eligible voters. Corporate, union and special interest money should be allowed only for “party building” and promoting issues. The trick is to have an accounting system that can keep these funds separate.
Any law that limits freedom of speech should be ruled unconstitutional, with the exception of unfairly influencing the choice of representatives to national, state or local governments.
Trying to persuade us to support some political ideal is one thing. Telling us who we should choose to represent us is another.
Frank Gillispie is founder of The Madison County Journal. His web page can be accessed at His e-mail address is

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By Zach Mitchams
The Madison County Journal
September 10, 2003

In the Meantime

The dying call of council duty
One of my first council meetings as a reporter included a lengthy discussion of whether to purchase a refrigerator for a maintenance shed.
I took notes, writing down one council member’s remembrance of a previous mini-refrigerator. They talked awhile but eventually made no decision on whether to buy anything.
Later, I looked back at my notepad, wondering what I was doing, jotting down details of a little fridge that cooled drinks and leftover lunches in the 80s.
This surely couldn’t interest the general public.
Many issues discussed at small town council meetings are like that, things where you just feel sort of ridiculous taking too many notes, that pot hole in front of Jim’s house that needs fixing, that grass at the cemetery that needs cutting.
I remember one historical preservation commission meeting I covered in another county that included discussion of curtains in a certain downtown window, how tacky they were.
“Don’t you write that!” I was scolded by a generally nice, elderly commission member, mortified to see my pen moving, probably thinking of the potential headline, “Commission member ridicules neighbor’s tacky green curtains!” (I did not tell her that I sometimes take notes on trivial matters just to keep my mind from drifting or that “Don’t you put that in the paper!” makes any reporter want to respond “o.k, well, let me tell you how to vote.”)
There are, of course, bigger matters at hand at small town meetings than curtains, pot holes and small-time refrigeration. You can see how a council deals with growth, whether it invites it or puts up a barricade, whether it is smart in how it plans development or helter skelter in its approval process.
In the minutia of small town council matters is something admirable too. The attention to the small details shows a diligence, a commitment to looking out for neighbors.
Unfortunately, the idea of serving on town councils is less and less appealing to the general public. Unless there is a controversial issue brewing around election time, most council posts include no more than one candidate, if that.
Many are scared off thinking of the long meetings they’ll have to sit through, the morass of paperwork that comes with any government affiliation, the possibility of being sued for some decision, the reporter that puts their name in the paper, the phone calls they’ll get when someone’s music is too loud, the anger thrown their way when they inevitably fail to please — all of this for little pay.
“It’s just too much trouble.” That’s the final thought of most who consider running. It’s almost as if they are considering a self-flogging, knowing that in the end, it will only hurt.
Next week, we’ll report on who has qualified for council seats in Madison County municipalities. You can pretty much count on few, if any, contested posts.
But those who run for elected office or volunteer for an appointed post deserve a baseline respect from the rest of us. We can gnash our teeth and shake our heads and call them stupid for decisions they make.
But are you willing to make the sacrifice to fill their shoes?
Most of us prefer not to, leaving the dying call to civic service to someone else.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.
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