Some “completely insane” ideas for campaign finance reform



Will writes from Washington, D.C. (well, Arlington, Virginia). You can reach him at willblogcorrespondence at gmail dot com.

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16 Responses

  1. Avatar greginak says:

    repeal the 17 th, oy. so then each state election would be federalized, we wouldn’t just be voting for state issues but for influence at the federal level. local issues would get swamped i would think. And who thinks state legislators can’t be bought. and state guys are not as big money as Washington, although they would get more expensive.

    How about no lobbying for any pol and their higher staff after serving?Report

    • Avatar North in reply to greginak says:

      Greg, if we repealed the 17th then the number of people who’d need to be “bought” in order to have strong influence over a single Senator would be an entire state legislative majority. That’d diffuse lobbying dollars enormously and also state legislators would be much easier for locals to get the attention of.Report

      • Avatar Kyle in reply to North says:

        I would agree and add that state governments have a lot more power – namely police power – than the federal government does, so I’m not sure why people would engage in that particular tradeoff?

        It seems to me that Senators would reflect the natural partisan/ideological bent of the state legislatures.Report

        • Avatar greginak in reply to Kyle says:

          But why is it good that senators represent the views of the state legislators. Doesn’t popular elections lead to that also?

          Up here is in Alaska we had a long running scandal of various state pols being bought off by the oil industry. In our case they were R’s. but they were all bought for thousands or at most $25000. Quite a bargain compared what it takes to buy a senator at the fed level.

          I still don’t see the benefit of adding another layer of importance onto state elections. What now we can argue about federal abortion law at a state level? Now we can argue about foreign policy or national issues at a state level?

          The senate was designed to slow the political process down, well it has certainly succeeded in that to the point where a super majority is often required to pass legislation. The senate was designed to be anti-majoraritarian, well it is doing that pretty well also. I don’t see how repealing the 17th does much. If the founders hadn’t written it in, I can’t imagine anyone would come up with that idea.Report

          • Avatar Bob Cheeks in reply to greginak says:

            For me its nostalgic. Repealing the 17th recalls those halcyon days when liberty actually existed, the populace embraced state’s rights, and we all weren’t ho boys for the feds. I’m impressed that there are a number of you left-wing, dems who have indicated support for it’s repeal…probably just a case of young men coming to their senses.Report

          • Avatar Kyle in reply to greginak says:

            I would trade the extra-constitutional filibuster for a repeal of the 17th amendment in a heartbeat. Here’s why (and I hope it answers your questions).

            Constituencies matter.

            The House is meant to be the chamber of the people, where the people, properly divided come to hash out our people concerns. The Senate was meant to be the chamber of the states, where the concerns of the states would be hashed out and in the dialectic between the two…we’d get legislation that supposedly worked for most people. Now there is no chamber of the states, just two chambers of the people.

            The result is an expansion of the federal criminal code, a huge expansion in unfunded mandates, and two houses of legislators who have no particular attachment to state sovereignty. While people may have differing views on the importance of the states, there’s no longer a policy conversation between the national government and the states. Not having the conversation – I think – leads to irresponsible policy.

            Two examples come to mind, NCLB’s rightly reviled unfunded mandates and Medicaid expansions. Both of which passed in part because the prestige of the national legislation trumped concerns about who was going to pick up the tab.

            Senators get to laud bringing in billions to support education and health care but the conditions on those funds alter the budgets of the states, whose legislatures have to then make unpopular cuts elsewhere in the budget to pay for “free money” secured by Senator so and so.

            So Senator Greginak of Alaska secures a Medicaid expansion bill that will provide billions to states as long as they adjust their poverty calculations in a way that expands eligibility. That’s great, people love providing the poor with health care and it’s great, except in Mississippi, which was tired of having a terrible education system and has to scuttle a multi-billion dollar program to support education to pay for their state’s share of health care costs.

            Without the 17th Amendment, I think you’d have more deals like Senator Ben Nelson’s for Nebraska, where either the federal government picks up more of the tab or fewer mandates. Maybe both. Either way federal priorities would have less severe effects on state budgets and just as likely federal legislation that requires implementation or compliance by the states would be less intrusive and more matched to their capabilities.

            This isn’t to say I hate medicaid or education reform and would prefer repeal because it’s anti-reform. I would support both. I just think we’d design better programs if the people responsible for implementing quite a bit of legislation and/or complying with it had more of a voice in the process – in this case the officers of state government.Report

          • Avatar North in reply to greginak says:

            Greginak, you’re missing the point I fear. A Senator is going to pay close attention to his states legislature if they’re capable of hiring or firing him. He’s going to pay close attention to his legislators but he isn’t going to worry about campaigning much. He goes from an elected official to sortof an appointed one and that can be useful. It means the Senators will be working or being useful when our current crop of senators are going out to stand on truck beds and give lame speeches. The state legislatures in turn are enormously more difficult to buy because they’re a lot closer to the voters and frankly there are more of them. Try contacting your local state rep then try contacting your State senator. I promise your local rep is going to pay much closer attention.

            The 17th was rolled out mainly because of communication problems. The legislatures would squabble over who to appoint and then coupled with how long it took to travel and how long it took to communicate they would be out a lot of time with no reps (and of course there was the raw populism). Modern times have pretty much put paid to the reasons for the 17th except for the populism. But we’ve seen how well populist elected officials work. Maybe it’d be nice to try seeing how the old style Senate would work in modern times. If nothing else it’d throw the lobbyists for a huge loop.

            Of course ultimately this is a moot point. The Senators will vote away their jobs sometime around the time that they find the hidden location of Cheney’s conscience, Bush II’s brain, Hillary’s charm and Obama’s spine.Report

            • Avatar Bob Cheeks in reply to North says:

              I’m with ya North! But “Bush II’s brain….Obama’s spine?” Didn’t Bush get better grades in college and grad school than the Enlightened ONe?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

      The problem with “lobbying” is that it looks a hell of a lot like citizens engaging in peaceful assembly coupled with free speech from a distance.Report

    • Avatar Kyle in reply to greginak says:

      Yes, after you leave office, you can never petition your government. Which is what they called lobbying circa 1789.Report

  2. Avatar Bob Cheeks says:

    Certain English intellectuals have been examining the ‘problems’ related to the failures of the modern electoral process caused by the ever popular ‘libido dominandi’ and exemplified by election fraud, a dumbed down electorate, corrupt candidates, etc. Here’s a couple of book reviews on the matter :

    Choosing the lower house by ‘lottery’ has the immediate advantage of improving the moral standards and intellectual capabilities of that body.Report

  3. Avatar Art Deco says:

    1. Proper screening of aspirant legislators. Our politicians should be people who have had and could return to a serious trade (i.e. not Trent Lott, Charles Schumer, or Barney Frank):
    a. One ought be a minimum of forty years of age to stand as a candidate for any elective office.
    b. Elect all legislators (for four year terms) on slates of 1 to 7 by a Hare-Clark method. Have a strict quota on the number of persons from certain occupational groups may appear on the slate (the groups being attorneys, public employees, party and campaign employees, and consultants under contract to public agencies, parties, and campaigns).
    c. Mandatory retirement at an age equal to median life expectancy at birth (now about 76).
    d. Rotation in office. No one holds a particular elected office more than eight years in twelve.

    2. Have the Senate, like the upper house of some colonial legislatures, be chosen by a caucuses of the lower house. Each state delegation might choose one Senator; half would choose a sitting representative who retains his vote in the House, and half would choose an outsider with some background in the federal government (perhaps a former member of Congress or a cabinet officer).

    3. A better division of labor.

    a.Give the Senate the task of conducting investigations and vetting administrative rules and regulations.

    b.Statutory legislation and treaties would come into effect with the vote of a simple majority of elected members of the House.

    c.The budget and administrative rules would be prepared by the executive; the former would pass into effect automatically unless the House passed an omnibus bill altering various of its provisions, and the latter would pass into effect automatically unless the Senate dispatches an amended version to the executive with a particular time frame.

    d.Congressional confirmation of appointees would be limited to the judiciary and officials like the comptroller-general.

    e. Convene a biennial convention of state legislators. This body would have the sole authority to propose amendments to the constitution. It would also be tasked with the responsibility for maintaining an organic law which specifies which powers were and which were not delegated to Congress, in lieu of the defunct delegations currently to be found in Article I. It ought also be given the authority to strip court decisions of their status as binding precedent, and prohibit their publication and citation.Report

  4. Avatar Kyle says:


    “The point of mentioning all these silly proposals is not that I favor them. I don’t. The point is that if we are concerned about Congressional incentives, then we should change Congressional incentives. It’s downright bizarre to see 535 people behaving badly — and conclude that we should regulate 300 million people who are not them. It’s even more bizarre, I’d say, than some of the above.”

    Perhaps that approach is why 30 years of byzantine campaign finance regulations failed to stop either outsized corporate/union influence or a steady erosion of public trust in the legislative process.

    I think the article indirectly raises another point that often the methods we highlight as being pro-“the people,” come with a cost. The direct election of Senators was hailed as a progressive victory for the people’s voice in politics but the cost was to make those same Senators dependent on wealthy individuals and large, resourceful organizations.

    The nation may have become hysterical but we’ve also become a nation of serial cost-avoiders. People who think you can have accountability without “lobbying.”Report