For years, we've had various psuedo-reformers making a lot of noise about getting the corruption out of Washington, D.C. A lot of the focus has been on somehow getting into the system with a wire brush and scrubbing all of the money out. Unfortunately, the late Citizens United case has made that difficult, ruling as it did that corporate donors are permitted to give unlimited funds to influence campaigns.
We say we want campaigns to be about issues, not money. We say that political donations are akin to bribery and influence peddling. We try to outlaw quid pro quo arrangements, forbid mixing a candidate's personal and campaign funds. We limit the contributions that can be made to candidates, but allow "issue ads" to be funded, as if there were some sort of difference. It's said that a member of the U.S. house of representatives must raise $10,000 per week just to run for re-election. Money in politics is like water on the sidewalk, it always finds a way in.
Meanwhile, the primary process is gearing up for the 2012 coronation. President Obama is unchallenged on the Democratic side, but right now, there are twelve or twenty G.O.P. candidates each trying t get some sort of edge. As I write this, we're just out of the grand, meaningless Iowa straw poll, but any actual meaningful electoral activities are still months away.
The media, not having much to report on, is indulging itself in polls and statistics. We're told, week by week, day by day, sometimes hour by hour what representative samples of the populace think about the candidates. Pundits try to capture vague metrics for concepts like "support" and "momentum". And one of the metrics they like to track is money: who has raised how much how fast.
It's an important measure of political support. People like what a candidate is saying, so they send money. Big donors want stuff, so they back the candidate who best promises to give it to them. "If you can't drink their booze, take their money, and then vote against them, you don't belong in politics." they say. The money is important: money is speech, we're told. The money pays for ads, and appearances, and hotel rooms and airplanes and everything the candidate needs to get elected. The more money a candidate has raised, the more people like him.
Meanwhile, everyone complains about taxes. No matter what bracket you're in, taxes are too high. Or they're not high enough for somebody else. The government spends more than it takes in, and is drowning in red ink. One of the most divisive issues is the nature of government itself. How big should it be? Can we reduce the size of it by starving off the funding? Everyone seems to agree that deficits are a bad thing, but no one seems to know how to deal with them. Many people want smaller government, as long as their particular sacred cows aren't gored. "Get your government hands off my medicare!" or "If we cut defense and homeland security, terrorists will kill us all!"
So here's a really bad idea. Instead of trying to get money out of politics, let's let it all in. Instead of scrounging in budgets and tax plans for money, let's go to where the money already is. Let's merge the government budget process with the campaign finance process. Let's let candidates solicit unlimited money from anyone they want: people, corporations, unions, foreign nationals, other governments, anybody. But that's it. No taxes, no other revenue. What money a candidate has in the war chest at the end of the election cycle goes into the general fund.
The more a candidate spends on getting elected, the less he'll have available for kickbacks at the end of the cycle. No more contributing money to the guy who will cut your taxes or forge loopholes for you, because it'll be the same thing. Spend your money on the guy who will use it the way you want, not on the guy who will cut you the biggest deal once he's in office. The more popular a candidate is, the more money he'll get to play with to implement his policies. We'll all finally get the government we pay for.
How about it?
Googlebombing for a cause: www.minnesotangos.org