On NPR today, I heard a radio version of this Slate article where Bruce Ackerman and Ian Ayres propose to change the electoral system by having each person ‘vote’ their portion of a Federal election fund. In this scheme, private/corporate/etc. funds which form the majority of the funding in today’s major campaigns would be balanced by a sufficiently large Federal fund. The Federal fund is to the tune of 3 billion dollars, which I admit sounds like a lot, but remember that the 2007 Federal budget is to the tune of 2.5 trillion dollars (US Gov’t Printing Office). I’m not convinced by this scheme, mostly because I can’t imagine it ever getting enacted. I have a hard time imagining a politician suggesting a plan which A) raises taxes (or cuts programs) and B) alienates the influence of their own fiscal supporters. I have my own thoughts on how to reform the campaign funding process (see below), but first I want to talk about New York state.
I’m all for a serious revision of the election system (New York or Federal), because I agree with the above article’s claim that we (the public) has lost control of the democratic process. Yes, in the end, the public votes, and ignoring the influence of the millions of dollars in ads and media spots, the people DO choose their elected officials. However, do they really get to choose who they choose FROM? Ignoring the party primary system (that’s a separate rant), it is those candidates who can survive the fund-raising gauntlet that are recognized as ‘front runners’ or ‘significant’ candidates. So to Governor Spitzer, don’t let the Assembly stop you. Enact some kind of reform, because it can’t possibly be any worse. I was especially amused by the quote on WRVO this morning (sorry no direct attribution as I was unable to find a transcript) from New York Senator Bruno (an entrenched incumbent) who called the reform plan “political suicide” for his party. What does that indicate about his party, if it becomes unelectable if reform is enacted? (Counterpoint: It could be argued that the “reform” favors some particular type of contribution or private funding which some how biases the electoral process. Although this is possible, I don’t buy into it… I think right now we’re biased against ANYONE who doesn’t have the purse or big butt-kissing lips for rich special interests… but I rant).
I think an effective election finance reform package has to have incentives for public funding while containing de-incentives for private or big-pocket contributions. I propose to do both of these with the same stroke. Apply a campaign funding tax. I figure if there are enough people (and corporations) in the US willing to voluntarily give $148 million (from Campaign Finance Reports of the Federal Election Committee) to presidential candidates then we don’t need a funding source. So in Robin Hood fashion, anyone volunteering to accept public election financing volunteers to accept no contributions or private funding. If you choose to be self (or privately) funded, then some percentage (I’m thinking at least 25%) of your gross receipts goes to the public fund. So for every 3 privately funded candidates, a 4th publicly funded candidate has a fighting chance in the election. Thoughts?