Wayne Greene: Rep. Tom Cole urges politically empowering all Americans
BY WAYNE GREENE World Senior Writer
Sunday, November 04, 2012
11/05/12 at 10:47 AM
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The nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics reported last week that each presidential campaign will spend more than $1 billion this year, and when you add other elections to the mix, the total is on pace to hit $6 billion.
That makes it the most expensive election in U.S. history by more than $700 million.
The big difference this time: Outside groups - empowered by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that unleashed corporate and union giving - have poured more than $970 million into campaigns.
It's a bipartisan funding festival.
Republican House candidates (averaging $712,000) are outraising their Democratic opponents ($594,000), but Democratic Senate candidates ($3.8 million) are topping their Republican opposition ($2.6 million).
Some people say it's time to get serious about controlling campaign finances ... but not Tom Cole.
The 10-term Oklahoma Republican congressman from Moore says the amount spent on politics doesn't bother him.
He pointed out that the National Retail Foundation reports that Halloween spending this year was going to be somewhere around $8 billion - roughly four times the amount going into the presidential campaign.
Which is more important, digging deeper the holes of tooth decay and childhood obesity or choosing the leader of the free world?
The hand-wringers say big money is skewing the results of U.S. campaigns and poisoning the political atmosphere, but Cole isn't losing any sleep over that.
"I don't feel liberty is at risk or the nation is at stake," Cole told the Tulsa World last week. "The system actually works."
U.S. presidential elections produce change and results, he said.
U.S. elections cost a lot of money but sure work better than the systems in Russia, China or a lot of other places in the world, he said.
For the record, Cole is doing pretty well in his own race for political dollars.
He faces only token opposition in his re-election campaign and raised $983,470 through Oct. 17, according to opensecrets.org. Big donors to his campaign include the Chickasaw Nation (he's a member) at $22,290, defense contractor Northrop Grumman (he has two big military bases in his district) at $15,000 and two big Oklahoma petroleum companies with lots of political yank, Chesapeake Energy ($14,500) and Devon Energy ($12,100).
So, Oklahoma's most influential House member says big money - of which he gets plenty - doesn't bother him. No real surprise there.
But, this might surprise some people: There is a part of the political structure Cole is ready to tear down - the Electoral College.
For the fourth time in U.S. history, the nation faces the real possibility this week of electing a president who has an Electoral College majority and a popular vote minority.
The last time came in 2000, when George W. Bush edged Al Gore by five electoral votes but lost the popular tally by more than 500,000.
Such an Electoral College president lacks a mandate and goes into his first two years in office - the potentially most important half of his term - limping, Cole said.
Beyond that, the Electoral College system is just undemocratic, he said.
Currently, the presidential campaigns are concentrating all their efforts on a handful of swing states, but "safe" states get no attention. Millions of Democrats in Texas (and Oklahoma) feel disenfranchised, Cole said. So do millions of Republicans in California.
At this point, it seems like "Daily Show" comedian Jon Stewart is right: The presidential election is an important event that takes place in Ohio.
That's not how it should be, Cole said.
"Everybody's vote should count the same, and everybody's vote should matter," Cole said.
Historically, the Electoral College may have served a purpose, said Cole, a former history professor. But the 18th century is gone, and with it should go an antiquated and potentially destructive political relic.
"It's arcane," he said. "This is not a helpful institution at this point. We should just get rid of it."
There's no reason to worry about big-money politics skewing the political discussion when there's a far more obvious target for reform available in the direct election of presidents, he said.
"You want to empower every American? Then you change that."
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Original Print Headline: Cole urges politically empowering all Americans
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