Campaign finance reform is about as exciting as watching the polar ice caps melt. The actual passage of an effective reform law will probably take, at a rough estimate, about a million years.
The fact of the matter is that Shays-Meehan and McCain-Feingold, the U.S. House and Senate bills, respectfully, won’t change much. Sure, they’ll get rid of the political antichrist known as soft money, a tremendous beast that allow groups like corporations and labor unions to pump millions of dollars into national parties annually. But ultimately, things will only be the same, if not worse.
Finance reform is a Washington thing, only enjoyed by pundits and political science dorks like myself, people who pride themselves in knowing what a quorum call is. And even there, only a handful of politicians in D.C. actually care about campaign finance reform. It’s mostly used so incumbents can tell their constituents they supported the soft-money ban. The masses can then clap their hands together like seals, not really knowing what their elected leader is talking about.
And why should they really care? Campaign reform, as it is being proposed now, can only make things worse. Sure, it takes away soft money, but the legacy of the ban is just as bad.
The only way to stay in office is to run a successful campaign. To run a successful campaign, you need to have a lot of money. With the proposed reform bills, much more time and effort will be put toward raising money, time taken away from effectively running the country.
Instead of debating an urban-housing bill on the floor, Sen. Whoever will instead go to a fund-raising luncheon or cocktail party. The long-term effect will be a new breed of politicians more concerned with collecting money and less concerned with running the government.
A better form of campaign finance reform would be to put a cap on the amount of money a candidate can raise. Not only would this put all candidates on a more even level, it would get rid of excessive fundraising and “favoritism” toward big donors.
Theoretically, there would be no favoritism because candidates could raise the allotted amount from a few large donors or many small donors.
Such a system is in place in Great Britain, where candidates can raise only a small amount of money, getting the majority of their funding from the national parties. Elections are focused not so much on who has the most money, but who is the most popular leader or who has the best ideas for the future of the constituency.
I realize there are problems with this argument. For example, if candidates have to rely on parties for additional funding, there might be an unspoken obligation to ride the party line.
I also don’t have a clue as to what the “correct” amount candidates can raise would be. Should it be different for different types of elections? Should soft money still be banned, as that would fall under the “allotted amount?”
I have no problem saying I am in no way smart enough to address any of these issues. But the issue at hand is to fundamentally change the emphasis of campaign finance reform from “who can give what” to “who can receive how much.” This would undoubtedly make for better reform, and eventually, more effective leaders.
- Joe Roma is majoring in political firstname.lastname@example.org