Tuesday, March 8, 2005

On Election Financing

Election finance "reform" attempts to reduce the influence of special interests on elections. I'm all for that, but I also recognize that water will seek its level. Money will find a way. In addition, artificially controlling donations to any political candidate, campaign, party or cause is a clear infringement on the right to unfettered political speech guaranteed by the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution. I reproduce that Amendment in full here.

Amendment I: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

My proposal for election financing includes no artificial, anti-market controls and employs full transparency to enable political market forces to control who gives how much to whom.

1. Only eligible human voters may donate to candidates for election, political parties, or campaigns that attempt to influence public policy.

2. Donations may be in any amount, and made as frequently or seldom as the donor may wish.

3. No non-human entities (corporations, etc.) may donate any amount to any candidates for election, political party, or campaign that attempts to influence public policy.

4. All donations, no matter how small or frequent, will be reported in a public forum, such as the Internet, as they are received.

Item 1 excludes donations from foreign sources, or those who have not attained full citizenship, or have had their civil rights revoked (for committing a felony, as an example.) However, I am open to the idea that any law-abiding resident of this country, not just citizen voters, could legally donate.

Item 2 eliminates the need to shuffle money to employees or family members to increase a donor's total giving potential.

Item 3 addresses concerns about undue influence by lobbyists. However, a CEO, board members, or other officers and employees would still be able to donate any amount, somewhat limiting the benefits of this restriction. I am open to removing this rule.

Item 4 is the key to accountability for this whole scheme. It's based on the expectation that a candidate or party will research the opposition's donors and donations, bringing potentially embarrassing contributions to light. For example, a populist candidate running on the "little guy" platform could embarrass an opponent who takes large contributions from wealthy donors. A party that emphasizes cultural values could point to a preponderance of donations by Hollywood producers and celebs to the opposing party or candidates.

Unlimited donation amounts and full transparency are the keys to creating a public market for political finance.


Here are some web sites that already use FEC or public disclosures to help voters see who's getting money from whom:

  • Change Congress - Lawrence Lessig, a professor at Stanford Law School

  • Fundrace - Look up who your neighbors are donating to, from the liberal Huffinton Post site

  • Opensecrets - Center for Responsive Politics' site

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