The First (of many) Ideas – Campaign Finance Reform

Citizens United Carpet Bombing Democracy - Cartoon

Citizens United Carpet Bombing Democracy – Cartoon (Photo credit: DonkeyHotey)

The changing face of our political world is something we’re all concerned with. I’ve yet to talk with a Democrat or Republican that agrees with the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling; which allows for unlimited contributions to political campaigns via superPACS and non-profit organizations. Still, we’ve focused only on the problems Citizens United has created and are not looking for a simple solution. Instead of trying to repeal what is now law, which is a daunting legislative process, we should start from creating a new law that doesn’t interfere with any current rules.

Personally, I don’t mind that people and businesses contribute hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars to a candidate; I feel that people and businesses should be allowed to do what they want with their money, so long as it’s both legal and ethical. I should mention, however, that I’m not in favor of the Citizens United ruling; not because the ruling allows unlimited money, but because that money is being used as legal bribery, and to divert accountability from the campaigns. Even though it is legal – now, it is not ethical.

What we’re seeing, thanks to Citizens United, is the perversion of Democracy. Two perfect examples, of how evident the perversion is, were given to us just this week; from both – President Obama, and GOP candidate Mitt Romney. Both campaigns, or their affiliated PAC’s, released ad’s this week teeming with blatant lies. In this case, I have to say the bigger disappointment actually comes from the Obama camp, though. Here is why.

-A man named Joe Soptic was featured in a new ad released by Priorities USA, and the ad is put together in such a way as to make it seem that his employment being terminated ultimately led to his wifes death in 2006. The insinuation being that Bain Capital is the company responsible for Mr. Soptics termination, and subsequent loss of insurance – which is to say that Romney’s former company played a villainous role in his wife’s death 22 days after she was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.

This advert was irresponsible and reprehensible; regardless of my personal feelings about Mitt Romney, claiming that he contributed to the death of this mans wife by firing Mr. Soptic is not just below the belt – It’s a direct shot with a sledge-hammer. But to make it worse, the Obama campaign spokesperson’s went on TV yesterday; not to denounce the advert from Priorities USA as being something atrocious, rather to claim they did not know Mr. Soptics circumstance or the details of his plight, etc. This was despicable politics at its very worst. Skirting the issue throughout the day, and even having the head of Priorities USA, Bill Burton, attempt to double down on the ad’s timeline (which has since been proven false) as well as the general sentiment that Romney is somehow responsible for the death of Joe Soptic’s wife. Sickening, and that’s putting it lightly.

However, Romney is not getting off the hook either. While his ad, or his PAC’s, is not claiming President Obama is guilty of murder, or anything similar; there was an ad released claiming that the president has repealed the work requirement for receiving Welfare. This is not true. Politifact scored the ad as “Pants on Fire” which represents no truth is used in the assertion of the claims being made. In fact, Politifact goes on to say:

Romney’s ad says, “Under Obama’s plan (for welfare), you wouldn’t have to work and wouldn’t have to train for a job. They just send you your welfare check.”

That’s a drastic distortion of the planned changes to Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. By granting waivers to states, the Obama administration is seeking to make welfare-to-work efforts more successful, not end them. What’s more, the waivers would apply to individually evaluated pilot programs — HHS is not proposing a blanket, national change to welfare law.

The ad tries to connect the dots to reach this zinger: “They just send you your welfare check.” The HHS memo in no way advocates that practice. In fact, it says the new policy is “designed to improve employment outcomes for needy families.”

The ad’s claim is not accurate, and it inflames old resentments about able-bodied adults sitting around collecting public assistance. Pants on Fire!

This is a flat-out lie being told on national television stations throughout the country, at a time when undecided and independent voters are looking for that one “thing” that will push them into either camp come November. I don’t pretend that this is more serious than the Priorities USA ad, but it is still indefensible. Yet, they’re trying. Newt Gingrich was on Morning Joe this morning and he gave his reason as to why the ad does hold water. His answer, as to how the ad is fair in the face of the memo HHS released denying the ad’s claim; “I’ll give you a direct answer, it’s because we don’t believe any of them.” Yep, that seems legit.

So what is the solution to all this debauchery? How ’bout Campaign Finance Reform, for starters.

But more than just listening to the already abundant and implausible ideas about campaign finance reform, I’d like to focus on a new idea. Something I’ve come up with that may play an important role in reshaping how we view politics and business in this country – and perhaps set a new standard for the world while we’re at it.

As I said, I don’t mind unlimited contributions – I mind that there are expectations tied to the money being donated to specific campaigns, and that the candidates avoid responsibility for the content of these ads because they did not “approve” the final message. So, what I’ve been thinking is that we can still allow unlimited contributions from any person or business, if we pass one simple law.

All money donated or intended to support any campaign, PAC, SuperPAC, non-profit, or any organization that seeks to gain political influence, must be disclosed. This money will go into General Election Fund for each type of election (congressional, senatorial, presidential, etc) which then evenly disburses money to candidates and parties after the fulfillment of certain requirements.

-For the record, I’m aware that the G.E.F. already exists, I just couldn’t think of a better term for this idea. Perhaps we could use the G.E.F. and remove the restrictions from donations, and add categories to coincide with parties, districts, states, and federal branch elections; avoiding the need to create a new bureaucratic agency that needs regulatation.

Think of it like this:

Obama for America receives $100 million in donations, there are 5 presidential candidates.

Instead of Obama For America retaining the full $100 million, they would be forced to disclose the money, (not the donors, only the amounts) and place those donations into the presidential general election fund. The money would be divided evenly among all 5 candidates, so now “OFA” receives $20 million along with all the other candidates. Evening the playing field, monetarily, and still leaving the door open for unlimited contributions.

This could be a triple win for American politics.

Win #1

Large private donors are going to be less likely to invest millions of dollars if they are unable to influence an election or policy solely on money-grounds. In essence, they’d be funding their own opposition no matter how much they contribute; therefore, we’d begin to see an exodus from the corporate influence held over our representatives in Washington, and at the local level.

Win #2

Then there is the thought that fringe parties like The Green Party, or Libertarians would finally be able to compete with the big money interests that both Democrats and Republicans are known for. If money is divided evenly, then our two party system might have a chance to turn into a truly representative democracy; both in congress and our state legislatures.

Win #3

People’s pessimism would begin to fade away. The thought that their vote doesn’t matter in a system that can be won by the highest bidder would begin to lose traction, and the candidates they’d like to see gain more attention might just do it if their message is strong enough. It’s possible that those who avoid politics altogether would become more engaged in the electoral process if they can see a candidate – who represents their opinions – has a realistic chance of success.

This is by no means a perfect solution, and yes it’s pretty socialistic – in theory. But, is it not worth the benefits we’d begin to see? No infringements on freedom are made, people are still able to donate as much or as little as they choose. The only difference, I see, is that candidates would now be forced to focus on convincing the country/state/district that they are the best person for the job, instead of jabbing at their competition in ridiculous ads or spending 70% of their time in office fundraising. (that’s not an overstatement, by the way – many politicians spend roughly 70% of their total-time in office either on the phone, or at fundraisers pandering for donations)

Obviously, there would need to be some requirements met before funds would be appropriated. For starters, potential candidates would have to meet local/state/federal guidelines to be placed on the ballot – as is currently necessary. Secondly, candidates would need to take part in a “pre-primary” process under a specific party flag. Independents are accepted, but must caucus with some party if they are asking for general election funding. All campaigns would need to disclose tax returns and financial statements for the previous 10 years to prove they have not engaged in any fraudulent or unethical behavior prior to the election. Since, personal wealth would not be included as part of the general fund (and therefore would be usable by the candidates at their own discretion), the tax and financial disclosures would be used to inform the public that they have not received any cash “injections” from outside sources leading up to an election cycle.

I’d like to hear other people’s opinions and criticism of this idea. Personally, I feel, there is a lot of potential here. And, at the very least, a good starting point for making a real change. So let’s hear it. Point out the unrealistic aspects; tell me why it’s not possible. Help me refine the thought into something that could be. If we can get this down to an alternative to the current norm, I’ll make a promise – right now – that I will start the process of getting signatures and finding representatives willing to put it up for a vote.

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