Campaign Finance Reform


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We face two giant problems in reforming our campaign finance system. First, the stakes are so high that money will find a way to affect the outcome. Second, it take many many years to pass any real change, and about 4 months to figure out a way around them.

I think we need to take a very different approach. If we take as a given that there is going to be a lot of money spent, then we need to think of who we want spending it.

The best is having the candidates spend it directly. That “I’m candidate X and I support this message” has constrained what is placed in candidate ads. And they are held directly accountable.

Second best is having the parties spend it. They also are held accountable for what they say which constrains them a bit.

The other point is if a candidate is going to get millions of dollars, a candidate receiving 1 Mil from Goldman-Sachs is better than their receiving it from 200 employees at Goldman-Sachs. The single payment will buy less as the size of the donation will force that legislator to justify any vote that favors the large donor.

So here’s my thought.

1. There is no limit on donations to anyone from anyone – as long as they are an American citizen or corporation (and no U.S. subsidiaries of foreign corporations).

2. All donations to any group that runs any political ads of any type must be put up on the web within 24 hours of receiving them. Every single group from the Chamber of Commerce to the Independence Institute to the NRA.

3. Any group running ads where an entity donated over 5% of their money must appear in the same percentage of ads saying “I’m X and I approved this message.” If it’s a company they say “I’m the CEO of X…”, if a union they say “I’m the president to the X union…”.

4. All ads must display a URL in the form contributors.domain.com which displays who has contributed to that group in a specified format with specified sorting/searching.

5. Political parties get to buy ads at only 10% over what candidates pay. And set up some criteria where candidates and party ads can take spots reserved for issue groups. (The purpose of this is your money will go further with a candidate or the party than with an issue group.)

I’m not saying this is a great approach, just that it would be a lot better than what we have now. And I think we would then see a lot more of our legislators because it would drastically reduce the immense amount of time they presently put into fundraising.

What do you think of this approach?

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8 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. harrydobyharrydoby says:

    Nice job, David.  The SCOTUS has ruled that money equals free speech.  I don’t think they have ruled that it, in turn, has an inherent right to privacy.

    So full, open disclosure of contributions is the best protection against corruption and undue influence of money in campaigns.

    I particularly like the notion of including the tag line in the ads when a certain percentage threshold is crossed (much like SEC requirements for stockholders owning a similar percentage of shares which warns companies of attempted hostile takeovers).

    Now all we need is George Soros to buy up all the votes so we can get our Congress to pass this legislation ;-)

    • ClubTwitty says:

      Do people have to be of voting age to contribute as individuals?  (And if the answers are no, how would this prevent bundling and funneling money through non-disclosed individuals?).  i.e.  ’Bill Koch, Jr. , grade school student’

      I also don’t get this part, and how the rest follows:

      The best is having the candidates spend it directly. That “I’m candidate X and I support this message” has constrained what is placed in candidate ads. And they are held directly accountable.

      Second best is having the parties spend it. They also are held accountable for what they say which constrains them a bit.

      Specifically, I don’t think you can prohibit individuals (and now, corporations) from ‘independent’ campaigns–SCOTUS says its protected speech.

      I do favor better disclosure, and like the steps you propose, but that is really only part of the problem.  The sheer, and exponentially increasing, amount of money in the race–and the endless campaigns such engender–are a larger part, IMO.

      Which is why I support both contribution limits and public financing where viable candidates have to show a certain threshold for popular support, but are then funded at basically equal levels, in a shortened cycle.

      That wouldbn’t prevent independent expenditures, or candidates running on their own dimes, or opting out of the pf system altogether, but I think its more comprehensive than just better disclosure, and there are ways to incentivize participating in the system.

      There are always paths around campaign finance laws–including corrupt agenda-driven SoS’s.  Money, like water in Colorado, can flow uphill–if the powers want it to.  Its like a water balloon, squeeze it one place and it bulges out in another.  I think incentivizing public campaigns, having a shortened campaign season, and better disclosure are all needed.  

      Of course we probably need a few new Justices first…

      • DavidThi808DavidThi808 says:

        Just that we want to encourage money going to the candidates where we can.

      • harrydobyharrydoby says:

        Having to provide the name of the person giving the money (even if they are an infant serving as a strawman) and their employer, isn’t a burdensome requirement.

        It may not immediately stop attempts at campaign contribution abuse, but would be valuable for later analysis, and if appropriate, prosecution.  And it would be a deterent for many would-be abusers of the political process.

        And even if unfettered giving of billions to campaigns is completely legal, at least we will know who bought our representatives, which is useful information as well.

        • ClubTwitty says:

          and I think Dave has some good ideas (I like the contributors.campaign.org link idea as a tag on all ads, and requiring CEOs, etc. to state who they are on ads above a certain threshold).  But I don’t think disclosure alone is enough.  

          • DavidThi808DavidThi808 says:

            People like the Koch Brothers will hate the transparency. But they might take it in return for the removal of the limits.

            And I figure since limits don’t work, trade away something that doesn’t work for something that will have an impact.

  2. It was blocked by Republicans.

    Next attempt at rational yet unattainable solutions?

    (PS – I don’t think encouraging campaigns to take direct contributions from corporations is any kind of laudable goal; it would further blur the line between bribery and campaigning to the point where it would be almost impossible to prosecute.  Just MHO.)

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