Giving a Voice and Clout to “All” of the People (A/K/A How to Truly Make America Great)!
The way political campaigns are currently financed is, from my perspective, 97% of the problem with politics today.
Anyone running for office needs votes to win an election, and candidates need money to reach out to the voters. The problem is how candidates get their campaign money and the subsequent impact this has on an elected official’s actions.
Voters expect that their elected officials will look out for their (the voters’) interests, but too often, large campaign contributors (i.e. corporations, Super PACs, super wealthy individuals and other special interests), also expect that the elected officials they have contributed enormous amounts of money will look out for their (the campaign donors’) interests. Too often, when push comes to shove, the large campaign donors’ expectations prevail over individual voter expectations.
The final price tag for the 2016 presidential and congressional elections combined was approximately $6.5 billion. That is a staggering sum of money but it is a mere pittance when you keep in mind that the people being elected will be one of 536 people who will decide how to spend the truly staggering amount of $4,147,000,000.000!. If someone gave you $2,000 every second it would take you just under 38 days to accumulate $6.5 billion but it would take you 65.75 years to accumulate $4,147 trillion.!
So, where does all this 6.5 billion campaign contribution money come from? Some of it comes from small donors, but by far the vast majority comes from corporations; super wealthy individuals; Super PACs; Social Welfare groups (i.e. 501(c)(4)s); Trade Associations (i.e. 501(c)(6)s); Unions (i.e. 501(c)(5)s) and political parties which additionally spent over $235 million.
Campaign finance reform is my biggest issue for many reasons but the two primary reasons are because:
- Generally, whoever pays for election campaigns is the primary beneficiary of the elected official’s actions (See footnote #1); and
- I think that our present system of financing elections is the primary reason why so many Americans are cynical, apathetic and do not vote. We have a huge problem in this country when we have over 230,500,000 eligible voters and more than 91 million of them do not bother to vote.
I want to get big money out of politics (or at least neutralize it) so that people elected to office represent their constituents, not their campaign donors. The question, in light of the Citizens United decision, is how can that goal be accomplished? I used to think that there were only two ways to get big money out of politics: get the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn its Citizens United decision, wherein the Supreme Court equated money with speech and therefore opened the floodgates of unlimited dark money donations or with a Campaign Finance Reform constitutional amendment. With Neil Gorsuch’s appointment, it is highly unlikely the US Supreme Court would overturn Citizens United and a Campaign Finance Reform constitutional amendment would be an incredibly difficult task with all of the big money special interests arrayed against it. I did not think a legislative solution was possible; but now I do. A legislative fix, through the Congress, would still be very difficult but it would be substantially easier than either the Supreme Court overruling its Citizens United decision or getting a CFR constitutional amendment passed.
To get big money out of politics or at least neutralize it so that people elected to office represent their constituents, not their campaign donors Congress would need to pass laws that would:
- Shine a real-time spotlight on dark money; and
- Create opportunities for common every day citizens to out contribute the corporations, special interests and wealthy (or to at least equal them).
Here is my idea:
We have a problem in this country when we have over 230,500,000 eligible voters and only 60% of them (about 139 million) bother to vote. It seems like many Americans think that they are a good citizen if they fly a flag, put a bumper sticker on their car and stand for the national anthem at a high school football game. I beg to differ. To me a good citizen is someone who not only votes, but who also actually participates in the electoral process.
Why are so many Americans non-voters and also non-participants in electoral politics?
Some of the reasons American do not vote or participate include:
- People feel that their vote does not make a difference.
- People feel that politics is a rigged game/that the fix is in (see footnote # 1); and
- Voting is inconvenient.
So, how do we help the 91.7 million eligible voters, who aren’t currently voting, become good citizens who vote, participate in and contribute to our democracy? Do we:
- Appeal to their sense of civic duty;
- Take a stick and force them to vote under the threat of some kind of penalty; or
- Incentivize them to participate?
While we all wish appealing to our sense of civic duty would be sufficient, it unfortunately is not. I am not sure you could legally force people to vote and I also think that if you did force people to vote they probably would vote in a way that meets the letter of the law but not the spirit of the law. So, that leaves incentivizing eligible voters to participate.
The way I would incentivize voters would be by passing the following three laws:
- When you register to vote the federal government would put $50 into an individual voter contribution fund (“IVCF”) that the registered voter controls. The voter cannot “spend” the money but rather (s)he can only contribute all or part of his/her IVCF to any candidate or ballot issue (s)he can vote for. The contribution would be made on line/by mail/in person to a certified candidate/issue campaign fund. Every time a voter votes his/her IVCF gets another $10 (so regular voters continue to have money to contribute). At the start of every calendar year another $50 is placed into every registered voter’s IVCF.
In addition, every time a voter votes his/her social security retirement benefit will be increased by $1 per month. So, if someone started voting at age 18 and voted in every election until they pulled their Social Security their lifetime Social Security retirement benefit could be dramatically increased. Another benefit to this would be that every voter would have a vested benefit in making sure that Social Security remains viable.
Wouldn’t it be great if campaigns were financed by the voters that elected officials are elected to represent rather than large dollar campaign donors? Such a method of financing elections could even lead to elections being won or lost on the quality of a candidate’s ideas and platform, rather than the quantity of a candidate’s radio, T.V. and print ads!
- Make it easier to vote by encouraging every state adopt Oregon’s vote by mail as Oregon’s voting process is the best way to vote because:
- It is super convenient (You do not have to leave your home to vote and you have two weeks to vote rather than just one day within which to vote);
- Inclement weather does not adversely impact voter turnout;
- It allows voters an opportunity to vote informed; and
- It provides a verifiable, paper trail.
- Get rid of dark money (Dark Money refers to political spending meant to influence the decision of a voter, where the donor is not disclosed and the source of the money is unknown.) by passing a law that required all 501 (c) organizations to:
- Trace and disclose the source of all of their funds back to the last contributor who actually paid taxes on the money contribution;
- Publicly disclose those taxpayers’ names within 120 hours of the receipt of the money; and
- Allow contributions to 501(c)s only from people or organizations that have actually paid taxes on the money. This would be to prevent attempts to obfuscate the original source of funds by passing through shell corporations to evade disclosure by requiring such groups disclose the origin of contributions.
Wouldn’t it be great if instead of raising money from lobbyists, corporations, super wealthy individuals and special interests at Washington D.C. fundraisers, that people running for office got their campaign contributions, in small dollar amounts, only from the voters who elect them?
I know that the first thing critics will say is, “How much would incentivizing voters cost and how can the Federal government afford such an expenditure?” My response is that if every potential voter availed him/her self of this program the annual cost would be about $12 billion. That is no small amount of money, however by getting big money out of politics and having our elected officials represent us, instead of their big money donors, we would save hundreds of billions of dollars (See footnote #1). For example, Medicare Part D (added under George W. Bush in 2006 and passed with substantial
special interest group lobbying from pharmaceutical companies)) does not allow the Federal Government to directly negotiate drug prices with the pharmaceutical companies. The impact of that is that, according to a study by Carleton University and Public Citizen, Medicare pays 83% of a brand-name drug’s official price on average, while Medicaid pays 48% and the Veteran Health Administration 46%. The difference between those percentages is not chump change. Medicare spent nearly $70 billion on prescription drugs in 2013. If Congress would simply allow the federal government to negotiate prices, Medicare’s drug tab could be reduced by up to $16 billion a year! That savings alone would more than pay for the cost of incentivizing voters, the IVCF!
Bottom line, let’s shift political power from the hands of the few rich and powerful to the voters where it rightfully belongs. Let’s give a voice and clout to “All” of the people.
 Large contributors expect the money they contribute will get “repaid” in the form of favorable legislation, less stringent regulations, subsidies (e.g. sugar), political appointments, government contracts or tax credits/deductions-to name a few forms of payback.
 The President and the 535 senators and representatives.
 The estimated amount of the 2017 U.S. Federal government expenditures.
 A small donor is someone whose total contributions add up to $200 per year or less.
 The top ten donor families, in 2016, contributed over $280 million! See:
 Super PACs spent over a billion dollars in 2016! Super PACs may raise and spend unlimited amounts of money and accept contributions from companies, nonprofits, unions and individuals. Since super PACs cannot give money directly to candidates, they are exempt from the limits on fundraising and spending that regular PACs must abide by. While super PACs are not allowed to coordinate any of their independent expenditures with a candidate’s.
 501(c)(4) groups/”social welfare” organizations spent almost $150 million in 2016! 501(c)(4) groups may engage in political activities as long as these activities do not become their primary purpose. Unfortunately, the IRS has never defined what “primary” means, or how a percentage should be calculated, so the current de facto rule is 49.9 percent of overall expenditures, a limit that some groups have found easy to circumvent. Donations to these groups are not tax-deductible. Examples of 501(c)(4) groups are: The National Rifle Association, Planned Parenthood and the Sierra Club.
 Trade Associations/501(c)(6)s spent over $30 million in 2016. 501(c)(6) organizations are business leagues, chambers of commerce, real estate boards and boards of trade, all which may engage in political activity, as long as they adhere to the same general limits as 501(c)(4) organizations. Donations to trade associations are not tax deductible. Examples of trade associations are: The US Chamber of Commerce and The American Medical Association.
 Unions/501(c)(5)s spent over $27 million. 501(c)(5) groups are labor and agricultural groups and may engage in political activities, as long as they adhere to the same general limits as 501(c)(4) organizations. Donations to these groups are not tax-deductible. Examples of 501(c)(5) groups are: Service Employees International Union (SEIU),
American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)
 Of the 227 million eligible voters in the country, almost 42% (over 95 million) did not vote in the November 2016 election!
 A January 2010 Supreme Court decision which permits corporations and unions to make political expenditures from their treasuries directly and through other organizations, as long as the spending is done independently of any candidate.
 Dark Money Basics Dark Money refers to political spending meant to influence the decision of a voter, where the donor is not disclosed and the source of the money is unknown.
 A Constitutional amendment needs to be approved by a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate and then it must be ratified by three-fourths of the states.
 Types of Election Spending
Hard money is traditional political spending. With this kind of spending, donors must be disclosed, contribution limits apply and organizations are allowed to coordinate their efforts to help elect a candidate. Hard money is not Dark Money. Hard money groups include candidate committees, political parties, and traditional political action committees.
Soft money is outside political spending. Outside spending — sometimes referred to as independent or non-coordinated — refers to political expenditures made by organizations and individuals other than the candidate campaigns themselves. All outside groups that aren’t political parties, except for a few traditional PACs that make independent expenditures, are allowed to accept unlimited sums of money from individuals, corporations, or unions. With these donations, groups can engage in a number of direct political activities, including buying advertising that advocates for or against a candidate, going door-to-door, or running phone banks. However, these organizations are not allowed to coordinate their spending with political candidates or parties. These non-disclosing organizations are “Dark Money” groups.
Types of Dark Money Spending
The most common organizations shielding their sources of money are:
- 501(c) Groups / Political Nonprofits. These groups can engage in varying amounts of political activity.
They are not technically political organizations, and therefore not required to disclose their donors to the public. These groups, like super PACs, cannot coordinate with political parties or candidates and therefore are allowed to raise unlimited sums of money from individuals, organizations and corporations. One of the biggest problems with nondisclosure is citizens who are barraged with political messages are not readily able to consider the credibility and possible motives of the funders behind those messages.
 The idea here is to give voters the power to “self-determine” an election’s outcome rather than have powerful outside forces come in and sway an election with their money.