All politics is local
This phrase doesn’t mean what it used to, and that’s a good thing. But also a warning.
It might be convenient to believe that the grand, all-encompassing national political stage is far removed from our own closely connected, locally focused community and its non-partisan government, but that’s also not as true as it used to be.
Candidates, campaigns, fund-raising, and voting in Lakeland are informed and influenced by the same forces that shape the political landscape all across the country: ballot access legislation, voting rights, and court decisions. In particular, the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which declared that corporations have the same rights as people and effectively freed labor unions and corporations to spend money on electioneering communications and to directly advocate for the election or defeat of candidates.
In his dissenting opinion, Associate Justice John Paul Stevens argued that the Court's ruling represented "a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government.”
Couldn’t happen here? It did.
In support of his favored candidate for the City Commission, part-time Lakeland resident Gregory Fancelli took advantage of the ruling to contribute ten times the limit allowed for individuals by funneling contributions through a collection of his corporations.
Of the $16,855 raised by the Frankenberger campaign, $3,705 came from the candidate and $10,000 from Mr. Fancelli. Mr. Fancelli’s uncle, Barney Barnett also contributed $1,000, leaving only a small swath of Lakeland’s other voters supporting the campaign with cash.
How and why this happened is unknown to us, and it may simply represent the true enthusiasm Mr. Fancelli felt for Mr. Frankenberger’s candidacy. And thanks to that, Mr. Frankenberger had the largest campaign account to work with.
It did not however, translate to the most votes. And that too is a good thing.
If there were a direct correlation between dollars and votes, we could just skip our trip to the polls and let the most well-funded candidate take office. We can’t take money out of the equation, of course, but we can keep it from making decisions, and we must work hard to ensure that that correlation never occurs. All the failures of our current political situation can be laid at our own feet. The failure to vote is a high crime. To cast your vote aside instead for something is tantamount to treason.
That may seem a little extreme, but the two most important and valuable features of the American ideal are freedom of speech and the right to vote. These principals do not exist together elsewhere in the world with the same gravity and durability as they do for us. To waste them is at least sinful, if not actually criminal, and we must all be ever vigilant lest we lose them.
Campaign cash does not go to candidates. In fact, unused cash must be returned or repurposed but not kept. The cash that is used goes to graphic artists, T-shirt and yard-sign providers, direct-mail companies, social media and websites and caterers. Your neighbors mostly. For the most part, more is better.
Reaching the public and delivering campaign messages is the top priority for any candidate and it costs money. But engaging the voters directly is usually - and ought to be - the most effective, and can be done for the price of walking neighborhoods and knocking on doors. Meeting the people one intends to represent is more likely to forge a strong bond than a fancy flyer or snappy slogan.
Get to know who’s running, so you can know who you vote for and vote for who you know, but for all our sake, vote. Damnit!