Campaign Finance


News and Thoughts on Reform

Picking the Right Strategy for Reform

In a September 2015 Gallup poll, 60% of Americans said that “a third major political party is needed because the Republican and Democratic parties do such a poor job of representing the American people”.  Add the number of Americans who think we can shake the establishment through the existing parties, and perhaps we have 99%.  Although no third party has since emerged, voters be they liberals or conservatives, have certainly favored anti-establishment candidates this election season.  They are so mad about the game being rigged, they want to disrupt the game.

But while the concern is well founded, angry voters don't always choose the right solutions.

Limiting legislative terms was a prior strategy to disrupt the game-rigging consortium. Voters passed them believing they would interfere with the relationships between donors and candidates if there was less time to get cozy. But money is the basis for these relationships, not old acquaintances, and money makes quick friendships that get started as soon as candidacy is announced.

So with term-limits, most lawmakers are now the least knowledgeable people in the Capitol and candidates are more dependent on big donors, lobbyists an unelected staff than ever before because they don’t have the experience or incumbency to achieve credibility on their own.

Choosing the least experienced or most disruptive candidate will not solve the problem either. Inexperienced candidates won’t be effective at making change, disruptive candidates will stand alone, and both will create gridlock. Meanwhile, establishment candidates with the backing to make expensive ads portraying themselves as “Washington outsiders” may still take control.

We have to demand sensible reform that empowers experienced and serious lawmakers to ignore monied interests. But public financing and transparency alone can’t achieve this because they do nothing to stop super PACs in the post Citizens United era. In fact, like term limits, relying exclusively on public financing for reform will actually make matters worse.

And extreme proposals that strip rights from corporations or attempt to restrict political speech will not get broad support. We have to strike the right balance. That may mean proposals like CFR28 won’t satisfy some who want to eliminate all use of (“big”) money to express opinions about candidates. But there is no fair way to draw that line.  It costs money to broadcast news and commentary and we can’t pick who can do that. CFR28 does the next best thing by preventing big money advertising.

To some, this may seem like a compromise, but it’s not. This is America; free expression is paramount as it should be all over the world. We don’t compromise that. We have to work around it and we can do so very effectively by eliminating the power of money to shape the reflexive thoughts in our everyday lives.

Michael J. Kyvik

p.s. In the 1980s, some conservative economists proposed protecting the environment through marketplace incentives. By allowing companies to buy vouchers for the right to pollute, the costs of pollution would end up in their product prices, making them less desirable and giving polluters financial incentives to clean-up emissions. For many environmentalists, purchasing the right to pollute was ethically intolerable, so we left it to politicians to make other regulations. We now call the voucher program “cap-and-trade”, and as special interests organized to oppose it, the opportunity for consensus evaporated.

Political speech may seem like pollution, in more ways than one. But if we rigidly try to prevent financing its broadcast to audiences who want to hear it, we will never achieve reform.



Anthony Hartman