Friday, September 22, 2006

A suggestion for campaign finance reform

I posted this on, but I thought I'd quote myself. Here is an idea to fund elections that is cheap, fair, and reduces the influence money has.

1. All campaign contributions go to the Federal Election Commission.

2. 50% of each contribution goes into the account of the candidate named, and the remaining 50% is spread evenly among all valid candidates for the office. (In a 2 candidate race, that would be a 75-25 split, in a three person race it would be a 66.6-16.6-16.6 split, etc.)

3. All campaign spending must come from the FEC account, and must go to legitimate campaign expenses. A list of such expenses for each candidate will be immediately made available to all interested parties as they are incurred.

4. No limits on campaign donations, but all donations above a certain amount (to be determined) will have full disclosure on the person giving the money. In the case of money aggregated by a corporation, union, or other group, the names of any individuals giving above this threshold as well as the names of those disbursing the money will be given.

5. Any money left over will be used to fund the general election.

This would be self-financing, result in more representation for minor parties (since they get a portion of what the major parties collect), and disclose precisely who is giving the big bucks and where it's being spent. In addition, it wouldn't violate first amendment protections, since people could give as much as they want with the understanding that part of the money goes to ensure a more level playing field in the election. You could call it a "funding redistribution payment" or some other euphemism.

One person wrote back the following:

Just one problem. The other would be the fact that nothing in your proposal would stop the "527s" or their relatives.

This is a good observation. Here are my thoughts.

Identifying if a 527 is advocating a particular issue or advocating a candidate is a problem under the *current* system. If you can do that, the problem becomes trivial -- those that campaign for a particular candidate fall under FEC rules. Unfortunately, the line is often blurred, and groups like MoveOn and Swift Boat Veterans for Truth use any loophole available to slam major opponents of their preferred candidate. This is an issue for any system that allows unlimited spending and tax-exempt status.

You could do something draconian, and in the same way companies have "corporate personhood," advocacy groups and PACs could have "corporate candidatehood" subject to the same laws as natural candidates. In other words, they would be subject to the same 50% rule mentioned above (they get 50% directly, the remainder split among every candidate and group in a particular race). You could drop the requirement to refrain from candidate advocacy as well.

Something this drastic would probably require legislation the size of an encyclopedia (if not a constitutional amendment), though. On the other hand, it would definitely reduce if not eliminate the power of PACs and 527's, since people would get more bang for the buck just donating their money directly to the candidate.

Still, I don't need to prove the method is perfect, just better than the one we have at present. :)


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