Thursday, April 3, 2014

Reforming Campaign Finance Reform

The Court's recent McCutcheon decision, brings up something I've been thinking about for a long time: How can we keep money and wealth from influencing lawmakers (the goal of most campaign finance reform) without limiting people's freedom to support whoever they want and to what ever extent they want (the principle the Supreme Court cited in the decision).

Currently campaign finance reform works by limiting funds, increasing disclosure and bribing candidates to forego fundraising. What if there were a way for people to give as much money to a candidate or a group of them without it influencing the officeholder at all?

I think I have a way, and here is how it would work.

Once a person files the paperwork to run for federal office, an account is set up for them at the FEC. There would also be accounts for each political party that fields candidates for federal office or PACs that want to influence them. If you want to give money to a candidate, party or PAC, you create and fund an account at the FEC, and transfer money from that fund to your candidates or causes. Candidate websites would take you to the FEC donation website and there would be no cash collections allowed etc... You can give as much money as you want to anyone you want to, but you will not receive any sort of a receipt, account statement or cancelled check that shows WHO you gave money to.

Periodically, the FEC will send checks to candidates with a certain percentage of the donated money (perhaps randomly selected within a narrow band, or perhaps using smoothing) to disguise large donations and prevent donors from trying to time them as proof of donations. "Hey did you see that big bump this week? That was me."

A donor can even ask for a refund, and if the candidate still has the money in their account, it will come back to them.

At some point in time after the race is over, or perhaps after the candidate is no longer in office or is no longer seeking office, the FEC will release a list of all the people who donated to that candidate/campaign and how much they gave  (and how much they asked to be refunded). For donations to parties or PACs, disclosure will come a certain number of years after the person closes their account (and is this no longer actively trying to influence elections).  For business donations to parties and PACs it would have to be a certain number of years after the campaign, and it would have to be many years - like 20.

The whole point is to keep candidates from knowing who is giving them money, and how much they are giving them. If they don't know, it can't influence them. Certainly people will TELL candidates they just gave them some money, and where there is trust based on shared beliefs, the candidate will likely believe them. Candidates getting money from like-minded donors is not the problem. The problem is candidates getting money from donors who want something the candidate would otherwise not support. But even then, the candidate can never really know if a person gave them money until it is too late to do anything about it.

This will mean no more dinners for big donors, or trips to the White House for bundlers and such because no one will know who the big donors are. And that's a good thing. It should also result in less money going in (since many donors will lose interest without the hope of currying favor)

This should reduce the quid-pro-quo element of campaign fundraising. It should allow for people to give all they want to give. It would create more privacy in the short run, but more disclosure in the long run.

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