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.