The Patrick Cannon mess: Helping to make the case once again for campaign finance reform

Patrick CannonBy all (or at least, most) indications. Charlotte’s disgraced former mayor Patrick Cannon is a rather pathetic, small-time crook. Though it’s hard to know exactly how someone with such a massive character flaw will behave in every circumstance, it seems a safe bet that he would be “on the make” in just about any circumstance — whatever the laws and rules governing the people who run for public office.

That said, Cannon’s swift and pathetic fall should serve as yet another powerful reminder of the corrosive and corrupting influence of money in politics — especially for those people who are not independently wealthy (or, at least, whose wealth does not match their perceived status). The hard truth of the matter is that it is very difficult to be an effective elected official in 2014 without: a) lots of your own money or, b) lots of someone else’s money. Part of this is just a matter of the way money can insulate people from temptation, but another big part revolves around how money can assure that a person will have a good chance at getting re-elected (and thus be taken more seriously while in office).

And , of course, the reason for the latter truth is the simple fact that our state and country both continue to adhere to the certifiably insane system of funding political campaigns in which only rich people and people willing to take lots of money from rich people can get elected.

North Carolina had taken several promising steps down the road toward wresting control of our political system away from fat cat funders and corrupt SOB’s like Patrick Cannon in the aftermath of the Jim Black, Michael Decker  and Meg Scott Phipps debacles when we passed several laws to to provide for public funding of candidates who could make some reasonable demonstration of public support. It was a great start down a road that would have all but assured many fewer incidents of the kind the City of Charlotte endured yesterday.

Unfortunately, conservative lawmakers beholden to the state’s top fat cat of all fat cats quickly saw to the demise of those promising reform laws under the disingenuous excuse of eliminating “welfare for politicians.”  Among all the sad policy development of the last few years, the elimination of public financing remains one of the saddest.

Is the demise of voter-owned elections temporary?  Let’s hope so. But given the ideological thick-headedness of the current powers that be, it’s a safe bet that the state will have to endure the disgrace of several more Patrick Cannons before real change of the kind we need can make a comeback

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