Politics & Government

Speakers in Bradenton campaign for political finance reform

League of Women Voters discussion in Bradenton bemoans unlimited financing

BRADENTON -- In 2010, the amount of political advertisements during election season grew from a major annoyance to a nearly unbearable presence every time people turned on the TV and the computer.

The Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, which ruled corporations were people with freedom of speech protections, spurred the ad growth. Since previous court decisions said money was a form of speech, corporations could now pour unlimited amounts of money into political elections.

Two speakers on a League of Women Voters panel Monday discussed ways to correct the issue.

"We do not exist in a country where there is equal political opportunity," said Frank Alcock, associate professor of political science at New College of Florida. "You have to raise a very, very, very large amount of money, one way or the other, if you want to compete for most political offices."

Alcock said the solution was a "relentless but respectful" demand by the public for political reforms, which should include a redistricting process without gerrymandering, a constitutional amendment to take personhood away from businesses and a more transparent reporting process for all campaign contributions, he said.

"Right now, corporations and their contributions can remain dark and are not subject to disclosure laws," Alcock said. "So in the playing field, corporations are actually more empowered and less subject to scrutiny than citizens are."

Rhana Bazzini, an 82-year-old woman who walked from Sarasota to Tallahassee between October and January to call attention to campaign finance reform, said she talked to many people along the way about the issue, including Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota.

"I said: 'Suppose I want to run against you. There's no way I could run and raise the funds that you have. It'd be like putting a heavyweight against a featherweight,'" Bazzini said. "And he looked at me and said: 'I agree with you that the amount of money has gotten out of hand.'"

Bazzini said it is important to pass legislation to fix the system. She advocated for the bill drafted by state Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-Pinellas, urging Congress to propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to regulate corporate political contributions.

"Some people say we should just elect all new people, but I don't think that's the answer. I compare it to a broken car," Bazzini said. "You don't take the people out of a broken car. You fix the car. We have to fix the system."