The Union Recorder

October 11, 2013

EDITORIALS: Uncertain future for campaign finance; U.S. workers lag behind


CNHI News Service

Supreme Court could reshape American politics in campaign case

(Mankato, Minn., Free Press)

Creating more distrust and cynicism of American politics wouldn’t be difficult today. We would need only to remove all restrictions on how much money wealthy donors can provide elected officials.

The U.S. Supreme Court may be deciding just that as it considers a challenge to campaign finance laws that limit how much individuals may donate, in total, to candidates for federal office.

Critics of removing the cap say it will legalize bribery, while proponents contend the government shouldn’t limit the free speech of donors who want to talk with their money.

Supreme Court observers say the justices may be leaning in the direction of removing the restrictions given their ruling in January 2010 to erase limits on how much corporations and unions can spend on independent groups influencing elections. Two years later, those parties and groups poured $5.2 billion into campaigns.

The case argued before the court this week started with an Alabama businessman, Shaun McCutcheon, with a zeal for supporting conservative candidates. He wanted to donate the maximum amount to a number of congressional candidates. But he was limited to 16 candidates because he hit the cap on donations that any individual may make in a two-year election cycle - $48,600 to candidates and $74,600 to parties.

McCutcheon has allies in the Republican National Committee and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. A National Public Radio report says they're asking the court to approve a campaign finance standard that would likely remove all limits - individual and aggregate.

Of course, after the court's decision in the Citizens United case, McCutcheon can contribute as much money as he wants to groups that in turn promote particular candidates. So, one might argue, he's not really restricted, though he says he can be more effective by giving money directly to candidates.

That's just the kind of appearance of corruption - let alone actual corruption - that U.S. campaign finance laws were designed to prevent. The laws date to 1974, when they were crafted in response to the Watergate scandal. They were challenged on similar grounds two years later and at other points, but by and large they were upheld until three years ago.

The Court’s narrow 5-4 decision then suggests the upcoming decision will be close, as well, with conservatives favoring no limits and liberals supporting current laws.

For the past 40 years the president, Congress and the courts have let campaign finance restrictions stand as legitimate safeguards against corrupting American democracy. In the meantime, the influence of money has only grown. A decision that allows more money to flow directly to candidates will be a bigger step toward enabling corruption in a system many Americans feel is already stacked against them.

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Economy, technology leave behind American workers

(Cumberland, Md., Times-News)

Studies repeatedly tell us that America’s school students don’t compare well with those in other countries when it comes to learning skills, but now we find out our adults aren’t doing well, either.

The Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies said American grown-ups score below average when it comes to mathematics, reading and problem-solving using technology — all of which are vital skills in our modern world.

America is not alone. Countries like Italy and Spain, which are hard-hit by recession and debt, aren’t doing well, either.

By contrast countries including Japan, Canada, Australia and others in northern Europe — where economies are good — score higher.

American business owners frequently complain about finding qualified employees. Many applicants have trouble filling out job forms, putting together a resume or communicating in basic English.

Part of the problem is economic. It’s hard these days to succeed when your parents didn’t, though it wasn’t always the case. Technology has eliminated many blue-collar jobs that once enabled less educated Americans to lead successful lives. Technology also creates new jobs - the ones we’re having trouble filling.

Reacting to the study, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said America needs to help adults upgrade their skills, lest they be “stuck in place, unable to support their families and contribute fully to our country.”

That will be more easily said than done.