A Better Way To Do Campaign Finance Reform

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43 Responses

  1. Dan Miller says:

    Oy vey, there were paragraph breaks in here originally.Report

  2. Chris says:

    You know who beats the candidate with government money, no matter how much government money that candidate gets? The candidate with government money and Boeing money, that’s who.Report

    • Dan Miller in reply to Chris says:

      Not necessarily.  In a lot of races, especially Congressional, the barrier isn’t that the incumbent has so much money as that the challenger has so little.  It’s a matter of making it over the hurdle to the point where you can run a credible campaign.  Which isn’t to say that every district is winnable–but with a decent candidate and a sufficient sum, a lot more districts are 40-percentable (i.e. a challenger can get close enough to scare).Report

      • Chris in reply to Dan Miller says:

        What you and Pat below are forgetting is that political campaigning is a business in this country, a multi-billion dollar business. What happens when demand goes up and supply remains relatively stable, in business?

        Look, I’m all for the government providing more funding to make up for the fact that some candidates can’t afford anything. But now the woman running against the previously broke candidate not only has enough money to run the same ads, but to run them twice as often, and to run twice as many different ads, and to put up two signs in front of every one sign that the previously drunk candidate puts up, and to run several more polls that determine what voters want to hear and the precise wording in which they want to hear it in. What’s more, she’s going to be willing to pay extra to get the best consultants, the best pollsters, the best ad firms, and so on. So your plan is nice, but it accomplishes only a little. If you want to even the playing field and diminish the influence of money to any meaningful extent, the only real way to do that is to do precisely what you’re trying to avoid doing with this plan.Report

    • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Chris says:

      I dunno that this is universally true, Chris.

      I expect diminishing returns after a certain baseline of spending is met.  You have to spend more than your opponent, but your opponent also has to spend little enough for your more to be significant.

      At some point, probably measurable (somebody’s certainly already done this research), you reach message saturation and you can’t really get your message out any more.  If both candidates are at or near that level of spending, additional spending isn’t going to help either of them any.

      There’s certainly a difference between a candidate who spends $60 million on the CA state governor race and one who spends $12 million.  I’m not sure there’s a major difference between someone who spends $60 million and someone who spends $45 million… and I highly suspect if you spend $50 million and your opponent spends $50 – $100 million, they’re not going to see much in the way of an advantage at all.Report

    • North in reply to Chris says:

      Chris put it pithily but accurately. There isn’t a ceiling to money; more will generally trump less. Look at student loans and tuition: the easy availability of student loans didn’t higher education to the masses, it just brough gigantic increases in tuition.

      So I fear that the desired outcome would not materialize. Then there’s the cost side of the ledger. Indeed the program would not be very big in the great scheme of things but I blanch at the idea of it none the less. For one thing the program would be written… by politicians. What it seems to me this would amount to would be some kind of status quos enforcement mechanism; yet another means by which the dominant two parties would retain advantage over independant or third party candidates.

      Coupled with my doubts about the outcome this makes me feel that on balance this program would likely not advance the causes it seeks to advance.Report

    • Brandon Berg in reply to Chris says:

      Diminishing returns.Report

  3. Will Truman says:

    I like the spirit of it, and agree with Dan (and disagree with others) that the floor is a big part of the problem. My main concern is how it is disbursed. The devil is in that particular detail.

    If you try to do it based on popularity (including voted dollars or small donations), they have to raise money from Boeing to campaign for the popularity to get the money to take them through the election. It’s not clear to me how much of an improvement that is.

    That’s my main concern.Report

  4. DensityDuck says:

    If bigger money were always better and biggest money were always best, then California’s Proposition 16 would have passed and Meg Whitman would be the Governor.Report

  5. A Teacher says:

    I find a far easier fix:

    1)  Every politician gets X dollars to spend.

    2)  Every politician gets Y minutes of broadcast time on any FCC lisencned network to use as they wish.

    3)  Every commercial that is run in any venue ~must~ have its funders on file and it’s facts must be accurate.  Any network or publication that fails to maintain these records is open to sanction as well as individual libel/ slander suits.

    4)  Any politician who in any way receives any form of cash or other gifts while in office is summarily removed from his or her post for bribery and corruption and cannot hold public office at any level at or above the level from which they are evicted.

    Plain and simple.  I read a book in college following recruits at the NYPD.  They were down right ~paranoid~ about Internal Affairs to the point where one cadet put down his sandwhich and walked out of a shop.  Why?  Because the owner insisted on giving him a discount.  But the rules were clear, concise, and non-bending.  Any… ANY form of bribe or gift and you were out of the program.  Why risk your entire carreer over $2 off on a sub?

    I would ask the same of any politician.

    And if people want to speak up, they’re welcome to.  Just put your name on what you say and let the rest of us be able to hold you accountable if it’s bold faced lies.Report

    • Dan Miller in reply to A Teacher says:

      Define “politician” for point 1.  Does Vermin Supreme count? It’s non-trivial.Report

    • Matty in reply to A Teacher says:

      I’d have major problems with 1 Either you define politician as anyone who asks to put their name on the ballot. In which case sooner or later everyone will realise that here is  a way to get the government to buy them a new suit and hire their friends as campaign consultants. Or you come up with some definition that limits who is allowed the funds and then you are back to giving some candidates a financial advantage.

      Then there is the issue that without something like  voting with dollars some taxpayers will be financing candidates they hate. Not a system that will be popular I think.

      2 I think has analogous problems given someone is buying airtime to distribute to candidates, even if it is the networks paying with the loss of revenue from donated time.

      3. Any venue could be hard to police, I like the idea but every flyer, every noticeboard in an office or social club?

      4. I agree with just 2 caveats, removal should follow some kind of finding of guilt based on evidence – even politicians don’t deserve to be ruined forever by unsupported claims, and you need some exemption for low value non cash gifts from immediate family (spouses and children) – “Daddy I made you a picture” is not bribery.Report

      • A Teacher in reply to Matty says:

        1)  Running for office with 0.1% of registered voters signatures on a petition.  Petition  forms are provided with the caveat those those deemed by a court of law to be abusing the process will be held in contempt.

        2)  If you want FCC certification to broadcast then you can plan to give up some air time to candidates.  Specifics can be worked out later based on time slots and locality.

        3)  Now this I see as the easiest because you’re not going to need to overly police advertisments with profoundly low exposure.  Does it really matter if there’s a typo on the flier at the gym?  But we should not be turning a blind eye to outright lies posted on national programming at 8pm.  It almost comes down to “do you want to risk that particular circular being audited for accuracy?”  And as for the grass roots fliers, apply the laws we have.  If you have a flier that the, say, Obama camp did not approve but it says “Approved by Obama for Re-election” then that’s fraud.  That’s already a crime.  Why do we need new laws when we can just use the ones we have an, you know ACTUALLY prosecute them?

        4)  Okay.  Exceptions for non cash familial presents under $30.

        But that’s it.  IF you’re a US Senator, you know what, you can do without Christmas presents during your term.  You’ll live.  You might even set an example for others.  You might inspire another generation who sees public service as a noble sacrifice rather than a lucrative gig.


  6. David says:

    My dear fellow, you really must be joking. The problem is, and this speaks not only to the colonies but to most nations in the world, the presence of money and the potential for “later benefits” being used to bribe the public officials.

    Adjudicating the campaign’s finance, so that only the candidates speak for themselves and ONLY through their designated campaigns, with a limit to funding, would be sensible. Even more sensible would be to eliminate the potential for millionaire spoilers and simply allow all candidates a particular sum, no more and no less, disbursed for the purpose of campaigning and thus require that their message, rather than money, do the talking.

    Sadly, it appears such common-sense measures are beyond the grasp of your government, since we now are witnessing the rise of the “not coordinated, with a wink and a nod” structures of unlimited bribery funding…


    • Will Truman in reply to David says:

      For this to be effective, you would have to eliminate free speech. Preventing Koch and Soros from running ads exalting the virtues of their preferred candidate or exposing their flaws. Preventing the NRA or MoveOn from advocacy. Preventing Boeing and Unions from advocacy (or playing favorites between the two). All of these organizations being made of people.

      That is all difficult to square with the First Amendment. That’s why it hasn’t been done yet.


    • Jaybird in reply to David says:

      We should also do everything we can to make sure that the network news and newspapers don’t provide “in-kind” advertising inadvertently through their so-called “coverage”.

      Preventing the newspapers from reporting on the candidates would suffice.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Jaybird says:

        How do you *not* regulate news media outlets? I mean, the people with cigars and smoky rooms can start their own news outlets. Of course, they would have an exemption since it would be news and not advertisements. Then, of course, the government will have to decide which news sources are legitimate and which ones are pushing an agenda.Report

  7. Jeff Wong says:


    We should put up that slogan somewhere all Americans can see. We need to realize it’s a stupid game and all money does is go get more money.

    Maybe we can burn it into the face of the Moon?

    Or print it on our money? It’d be empowering for the everyman.Report

    • Jeff Wong in reply to Jeff Wong says:

      I should add, sometimes it seems we’re all just dancing around the topic, at least in the public discourse. Why are people allowed buy ads on during campaign season?

      Of course, if the Bill of Rights has this unintended consequence which allows some self-destruct sequence to get started, maybe we should flip it off. Either that or wait for the American experiment to fail.

      But perhaps starting from scratch would be simpler. We could have meaningful state boundaries perhaps.Report

      • David in reply to Jeff Wong says:

        “Why are people allowed buy ads on during campaign season?”

        I believe there was a time when your financial laws prohibited that in your country, but that your supreme court ruled the practice to be unconstitutional. Or am I mistaken? Perhaps someone with more complete knowledge than I can provide the history?Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Jeff Wong says:

        Why are people allowed buy ads on during campaign season?

        Free. Speech. Silencing the sounding out of political views, even if you’re doing it uniformly, is hard to square with the very fundamentals of the notion of free speech.

        Speak freely! But not where anyone can hear you (ie in advertisement form)! If it’s about politics, anyway. During the time these ads – this speech – matter most, that is.Report

        • David in reply to Will Truman says:

          I find it extremely hard to equate bribery money with speech, and that includes the idea that an “uncoordinated advertisement campaign (wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more)” promoting one candidate is speech instead of bribery.Report

          • Will Truman in reply to David says:

            Some of it may well be bribery but not all of it. Now, how do you eliminate the speech without eliminating the bribery? You don’t equate the two, but how do you tell them apart, from a law-drafting standpoint? Trampling speech on the basis that it *might* be bribery is… problematic.


            • David in reply to Will Truman says:

              From my perspective, it seems the appearance of corruption is a perfectly reasonable legal standard. Reading some of the news recently, it appears that the decision by your Supreme Court went to rather absurd lengths to claim, as justification for equating speech with money, that there was no possible way that the money raised the appearance of corruption.

              Over here, we have something called the “smell test”, which says roughly that if it smells like two day old fish left out in the sun, something is wrong… and trampling bribery despite a disingenuous and rather unbelievable claim it is instead “speech” seems again to be no problem to me.Report

              • Will Truman in reply to David says:

                So you would eliminate the right to free speech based on odor?

                Who gets to decide what smells and what doesn’t? Or do you simply silence everybody except who the government decides qualifies as “media”? Or would you advocate for a media blackout as well?


              • David in reply to Will Truman says:

                Well over here, we have registration for actual journalists, we have laws covering news coverage, and if someone feels the news programmes are producing nonfactual material or unduly slanting it, then they have legal recourse to challenge it.

                It’s worked rather well for us. Certainly much better than the mad-grab which has produced some of the absolutely disgusting things I have heard clipped from your not at all disguised “talk radio” programmes and some of the amazing distortions I have seen on your Fox News website, which often produces headlines that have absolutely no relation to the article when they wish to outright slander someone or just insist on a tilted impact unhindered by facts.


              • The notion of the government deciding who does and does not qualify as a journalist is… not workable over here. There have been some efforts with regard to journalistic shield laws. They have not inspired confidence.

                So what happens over there if a journalist’s license is revoked?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to David says:

                “Politician A Gave a Speech to Hundreds of Supporters Today, Promised Jobs, Freedom, Ponies.”

                “Politician B Refused to Answer Questions about his Alleged Affair with a Staffer Before Giving Speech to Political Cronies.”Report

  8. Bruce Majors says:

    The perpetual cry of the government class for government financing of incumbents and striction of angel donors for challengers.

    Telling people they cannot buy a radio ad or send out a mailing with their own money, that they an only do it if they collect the money in some government mandated way, is censorship.

    The one form of campaign finance regulation that would not be censorship is to limit what incumbents can spend or raise directly on their own, by making it part of their employment contract.Report

  9. b-psycho says:

    Sometimes in thinking about the corruption & campaign money issue, I move towards taking the snark that politicians should be required to wear the logos of their sponsors like NASCAR drivers and giving it a serious whirl.Report

  10. Mike says:

    As an advocate of the KISS principle, why can’t we keep the process as simple as possible by just lifting the limits on donations to the campaigns and parties?  As long as we have full transparency about who is donating and how much, it drains funds away from PACS since donors would rather contribute to candidates or the political parties if they had an option.  That’s where their first dollars go anyway.

    And best of all, you don’t have to crap on the 1st Amendment.

    Every time we’ve tried to “reform” campaign finance we’ve ended up making the system so complicated that  we’ve created a morass that can only be negotiated by specialized lawyers  Maybe we should go in a different direction..Report

    • Dan Miller in reply to Mike says:

      This would do basically nothing about the problems of corruption or the appearance thereof, or wealthy domination of the political conversation.  You may not believe these are problems–but a ton of people do.  And your coalition isn’t large enough to take action on its own (neither is the opposing coalition, of people who believe in strict donation caps.  Both sides block action that’s not in their favored direction, but can’t muster the votes for their proposed solution.  Story of American politics in the 21st century, I guess, but I think on this issue it might be possible to actually compromise–package a reduction in donation restrictions with real public financing.Report

  11. dlw says:

    1. If you increase the number of competitive elections by the strategic use of limited proportional representation in “more local” elections, it has the same effect as CFR and makes CFR more feasible and enforceable.  This is what I write about often at “A New Kind of Party”.  

    1a. This is because more competitive elections will force intere$t$ to hedge more and accept a lower and/or more variable return.

    1b. It will help elect 3rd parties who benefit the most from the regulation of $peech and are the right people to administer CFRegulations.

    2. With 1. more competitive elections, 2. increased transparency, 3. progressive taxation of all forms of $peech, 4. most of which should be channeled through party leaders, not SuperPACs, whose actions are relatively public, 5. Some subsidies perhaps as described above, and 6.  Common sense regulations then our system would be a better balance of popular democracy and kleptocracy, or the democracy of the dollar that is a critical but poorly understood ingredient in any Capitalist system.