Most of the discussion will include the variety of terms that have found their way into the language of campaign finance. There will be talk of “hard money,” “soft money,” “PAC’s,” “access” and “527 groups”. Terms that are unintelligible Washington speak to most Americans not in the professional political class.
The Campaign Finance Reform Debate
Words missing from the debate are things like “people,” “voters,” “democracy” and “representation.” Any “reforms” should concentrate on making the government responsive to the governed.
Campaigns should be financed in a way that promotes representative democracy. Regulation of campaign finance ought to be guided by principles which recognize our social compact.
Representatives should look after the interests of the PERSONS they represent. Congressmen, State Representatives and State Senators represent PERSONS of their districts. Statewide officers and U.S. Senators represent the PERSONS of their state. The President represents all of us.
Who is Represented?
An original principle of our government is that elected officials represent people. It is not corporations, not unions, not PAC’s, not trade associations, and not foreign nationals that give consent to be governed, it is individuals. It’s incredible that entities outside of the relevant electorates finance the campaigns of officials who are ostensibly elected to represent others. With that in mind, campaign finance reform is a simple proposition.
A Simple Contribution Proposal
The only contributions allowed to a candidate for political office should come from PERSONS registered to vote in the political unit that the candidate would represent if elected. If an elected official had to raise all political funds from registered voters in his district, there would be no conflict between his interests and those of his constituents. Restricting direct contributions to registered voters of an electoral division would place the concerns of voters of an official’s representation area foremost in his mind.
Currently, an official can (indeed, to remain competitive, must) raise funds from well beyond the confines of his district to advertise to his voters. The advertising is a marketing program designed by modern sales techniques to be successful with his legally defined constituents.
Who is Served? Voters or Contributors?
The election winner owes less to the voters who selected him than to those that enabled him to broadcast his campaign to the electorate. No one can serve two masters; so ultimately, it is the financiers not the voters who are served.
Independent Expenditures, Free Speech For All
It is a system of legalized bribery. Evidence of this are the charges that Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich attempted to sell Barack Obama’s Senate seat for campaign contributions. The Supreme Court has equated money spent in promoting political ideas with free speech. Corporations, unions, trade associations, interest groups and others cannot and should not be prohibited from spending money to support a candidate.
What an organized group should have to do, if they wished to advocate the election of one candidate or another, is to take their message directly to the people, not give the candidate money. This would be actually exercising free speech, not payoffs disguised as speech.
Such advocacy should have two requirements. One is that the entity involved be prominently identified in its communications (a truth in advertising requirement, so the voters know who is for or against a candidate). The other is that such advocacy be separate from and outside the control of the candidate’s campaign, continuing the current federal requirements regarding “independent expenditures.”
Under this system our representatives would truly represent those by whom they were elected. This would be a great change from their current position of taking legalized bribes to advertise. The contribution rule would be easy: donations must be from a registered voter eligible to vote for the candidate to whom he is contributing.
Simple System, Simple Penalty
A final thought: The penalty for violations of the above rules should be swift, sure and simple. The candidate who violates the financing rules should be removed from office.
The conduct of such an investigation could be begun by a private citizen in a civil lawsuit. The only requirement would be that the citizen be a registered voter in the political unit of the candidate whose finances he wished to challenge.
It’s a simple, comprehensive proposal that gives the state and national governments back to the people.