Money is not speech

In case you missed it because you were distracted by the town not having electricity for the good part of the day, President Barack Obama buzzed through the area on Monday.

And like many a politician before him and many a politician who will come after him, he had his money sack open to enjoy the generosity of Fairfield County residents, including many from right here in town. From a $500 cocktail reception in Stamford to a $35,800 a plate event in Westport, President Obama was expected to come away with quite a haul, but what did people get for their money?

President Obama gave a little red meat partisanship with some attacks on Republican opponent Mitt Romney’s fiscal plans, and proved that he indeed has a working pair of eyes by complimenting actress Anne Hathaway, but was that worth the thousands of dollars it took to gain entry to this kind of event?

Greenwich residents had the chance to stop by the Stamford event and for a mere $10,000, they had the chance to get their picture taken with the president and nearly a whole minute of his time before the next contributor came through. We can’t imagine this was much fun for the president. Who wants to be begging for money when there’s a country to lead? And each year politicians of both parties have to spend more and more time fund raising.

The criticism here doesn’t go to any particular politician. It’s not President Obama’s fault that these are the rules of the game. Choosing not to participate in this kind of big time political fund raising would be pretty much asking to take a political retirement four years before he wants to. Both parties have to do it because we have a political system that is utterly insane when it comes to money.

Certainly Mr. Romney has come through Greenwich many times to raise funds for his own campaigns and others in the Republican Party. President Bush stopped by during his term. No matter what party a politician is in, they need money and they need to come through Greenwich. It’s way past time we stopped this madness before money really does choke the life out of democracy.

With a presidential and congressional elections coming in less than 100 days, there’s going to be a lot of talk about reform. But we’re never going to have the kind of political reform we need in Washington, D.C., unless we drain the money from politics. That’s why we have to shake our heads when we hear Greenwich resident Len Tannenbaum equate money with free speech in supporting the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that turned what was left of our political system’s dignity into a free-for-all of unlimited corporate cash.

This is not a criticism of Mr. Tannenbaum’s newly formed political action committee to seek a more business-friendly Connecticut. Instead it’s a disappointment to see people continue to try and defend the Supreme Court’s disastrous decision that you can spend whatever the heck you want on campaigns and it’s “free speech.” Even more than the debacle in Iraq, Citizens United is the stain of the George W. Bush presidency because of the impact it has on our democracy by giving free rein to our millionaires and billionaires to spend whatever they want to influence our elections.

Mr. Tannenbaum is someone we’re going to hear a lot from in the coming months and we welcome his voice to the debate, especially when it comes to attracting businesses to Connecticut. But money does not equal free speech, and something must be done because Greenwich is not an ATM machine and our political system needs to be better.

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