Question Day: Money-Free Elections?
Farcaster asks: "What are the best ideas you've heard about for taking the money out of politics? Term limits? Specific campaign finance reforms? Where does this stand in the legislature and what would happen if Obama took it to the people in a referendum/constitutional amendment proposal?"
I'll take the last question first: The evidence suggests that voters pretty much don't care about money in politics, or any other procedural issues. Even when they most definitely should, they don't. At best, partisans can rally around talking points, but there's no evidence I'm aware of that money in politics is a particularly motivating issue for many people.
As for the rest of it ... longtime readers know that you're asking the wrong person. I like money in politics. I'd like more, please. Campaign spending means more information for voters, who generally don't have enough, especially for down-ballot races.
No, raising money doesn't really bother me very much. First, because campaign spending is subject to diminishing returns, so that it doesn't really matter much if two candidates are well-funded but not equally funded. Second, because the evidence that campaign finance affects behavior in office remains fairly weak (it's just as likely that groups give to candidates who are already planning to do things that the groups like, which is a very different thing). And because I basically think that democracy involves participation, so while it might be a problem if fundraising had evil consequences, the basic idea of people giving money to candidates to advance things they support seems perfectly democratic to me.
There are two things I would like. Unfortunately, I'm not likely to get either.
One is a better distribution of money across different elections. To be blunt: we waste enormous amounts of money on presidential elections, while elections for offices from local transit authorities up to U.S. House tend to be dramatically underfunded. We also tend to overfund (or at least fully fund) a small set of extremely competitive House and Senate elections, while underfunding the other 350 or so. If it were up to me, I'd put in partial public financing for Congress, but barring that I'd like to see some set of incentives to move money to where its more needed.
The other is that I'd like to find some way of reducing the amount of time politicians spend raising money. I used to be optimistic that a "floors, not ceilings" approach -- partial public financing for Congress, and then unlimited (but fully disclosed) contributions above that -- would do the trick. Unfortunately, the lesson of the last decade appears to be that the demand for fund-raising is essentially unlimited. What probably will be needed is a revolt of the politicians, but I don't have high hopes for that happening any time soon.
I still support floors, not ceilings, plus full and meaningful disclosure. But if anyone has better suggestions for achieving the goals that I think are worthwhile, I'm all ears. Those goals? Real campaigns for as many offices as possible. Minimal regulation, so that parties and interests can choose how to organize themselves rather than constantly re-organizing to fill loopholes in ever-changing rules. The ability for the press and rival candidates to publicize sources of support. Minimizing the time required for fundraising, including both candidate and campaign time. So, no, I'm not looking to get money out of politics.
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