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100 ?’s for Gov’t: Who should contribute campaign funds?

March 30, 2013

This is Question 30 from “100 Questions for Government” series

How did this question end up following our brief discussion of terms of government? How fortuitous! The process of financing political campaigns is a highly controversial issue and possibly one of the most convoluted and disappointing aspects of the US political system. I doubt the founding fathers would have been enthused about what it has evolved into. The issues surrounding campaign financing include the:

a)    Amount of time our politicians spend chasing campaign funds

b)   Extraordinary financial advantage delivered to incumbents

c)   Impact of Super PACs on fair elections

d)   Overall loss of vision on this topic

e)    Underlying conflicts of interest and possible look of impropriety regardless of their existence

Our current politicians are asked to make decisions about whether the advantage they receive as incumbents should be preserved, and while there have been some heroic efforts to “right the ship”[1], consistently fail to make any meaningful progress towards a solution reflecting the interests of the electorate. This lack of results was further impacted by the Supreme Court decision to stop any ban of corporate funds entering the political arena[2].

The Supreme Court (in a 5-4 vote) placed much of their decision on preserving freedom of speech, which I agree has to be upheld as one of the underlying bricks in the American ideal. However, to get a clear picture of what’s wrong with the current system, we have to remember government is supposed to be for “the people” and electing officials with an understandable bias towards interest groups that have financially supported them is not a good look.

The election of our representatives should be based on their ability to represent our interests effectively, act with integrity and articulate their ability to do this. To represent “the people” without actual or perceived undue influence from particular individuals or legal entities (e.g. corporations) the following should be true:

a)    If corporations are to be afforded “freedom of speech”, they should be limited in the funds they use in the same way individuals are

b)   “Freedom of speech” should not and does not imply the right to anonymity – whoever speaks or advertises in favor of a candidate should be required to specifically and directly identify themselves an individual[3]

c)   Any advertising supporting a particular candidate should have to be approved by that candidate

While this might “even the playing field” a little further, it still leaves giant issues around the “distraction” caused by perpetual campaigning, the incumbent advantage and the perception of undue influence. I believe an easier path would be strict caps on campaign finance that provided each candidate with a standardized campaign structure that ensured equal time, equal forums and promotion. This would be accompanied by a restricted “campaigning season” so the election cycle was shortened and successful candidates could focus on governing.

This approach significantly reduces any risk of advantage through having more money, and forces every candidate to use their resources wisely (a key skill for the type of government we seem to aspire to) while focusing on issues rather than casting aspersions. A limited campaign period would also significantly reduce the pain and agony caused to the electorate through excessive provision of misinformation the current system delivers.

Initial Opinion:

The only reason campaign finance issues have not been resolved is that the people it most benefits (the incumbents) are the ones making the decision. This is not a partisan issue, I have to believe all Americans want a fair election process that allows voters to make educated decisions about their candidates. Unfortunately, the election process has been overtaken by a survival of the richest mentality when survival of the MVP (Most Valuable Politician) was always the intent. While my suggestions may not be the correct solution, something other than what we have is.

[1] e.g. McCain/Feingold

[3] A company is made up of people – those choosing to promote a candidate or their views should have to identify themselves

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