Real Campaign Finance Reform
Jon Roland

Much has been written about the evils of large contributions being made to influence elections and legislation, and various measures have been proposed to try to solve the problem, mainly by limiting contributions and requiring disclosure of contributors. These proposals have two main things in common: they are unconstitutional and they won't work. Indeed, they will make the problem worse.

Now we learn that it is not just a problem of special interests seeking opportunities to influence legislation by making large contributions, but of extortion by elected officials who threaten adverse legislation if they don't contribute. That can't be stopped by contribution limits or disclosure requirements.

Political professionals are the only ones who make use of contribution disclosures, to find more extortion victims, and to harass supporters of candidates and legislation they oppose. And both major parties combine to use such disclosures to suppress independent candidates and reformers.

Public financing has also been proposed, but people object to their taxes being used to finance the campaigns of candidates or causes they oppose. And with public financing comes public control. How likely is it that truly independent and honest candidates and causes will get equal support under any financing program?

There is only one kind of measure than can be both constitutional and effective, and that is to reduce the ability of money to influence elections and legislation. When spending more money to influence outcomes won't pay off, it and its baneful influence will end.

But we have become so accustomed to expensive marketing campaigns being needed for almost any kind of change that it is difficult to imagine that there was a time, when this country was founded, when candidates and legislation were not marketed like commodities, but considered on their merits by public-spirited citizens who sought out information needed to make good decisions.

If people don't want politicians and legislation paid for by the highest bidder, then all they have to do is stop voting for them. As long as they continue to vote for the candidates or measures who spend the most on ads, they will continue to contribute to the problem of undue influence by large contributors. All they have to do is make the effort to seek out information, make carefully considered choices, and avoid supporting any candidate or legislation for which support is well-funded.

Politicians are corrupt because the people are corrupt, and when the people stop being corrupt, they will elect statesmen.

As long as money can affect the outcomes of elections, it will, and that money will corrupt the election process. The solution is to so structure elections that the outcomes are not affected by money to any significant degree. While public civic virtue is lacking, we need to examine structural or procedural reforms that might improve the situation to some extent, and perhaps develop such virtue:

  1. Replace at the state and local levels the party caucus and primary systems with elimination tournaments, similar to those used in sports leagues. The design objective would be to enable anyone to enter the contest at the local level, and without spending much money at any stage, ascend from level to level based on his or her merits and positions on the issues, until in the final election there would two candidates on the ballot for every position to be filled. Debates among the contenders, and broadcasting of them, might be publicly financed, so that they could get their messages across to the voters without expensive advertising, and such debates would provide some entertainment value to excite voter interest.
  2. Broadcast debates among candidates using nonvisual media, such as radio, print or Internet message, so that cosmetic factors would have less effect on election outcomes.
  3. Provide legal standing to citizens to sue officials for failing to deliver on campaign promises, or for unanticipated adverse consequences of their policies.
  4. Provide for recall elections for members of the U.S. Congress and all state offices.
  5. Support multiple advanced computer simulation modeling exercises of how proposed public policy changes might actually work out in the long run.
  6. Require the study of most of the more important works in the Liberty Library by students and would-be citizens.

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