America’s Election System Is Fundamentally Broken, And We Need Campaign Finance Reform To Fix It

What’s the single most important political issue that you care about? Civil rights? The environment? Education? Gun control? Income inequality? Well, I have some bad news for you: it’s not as important as campaign finance reform. Not even close, really.

You’re never going to see serious, sweeping changes on any of those issues above, or any other serious issue, until this country tackles the detrimental flaws in our election system, and campaign finance reform is chief amongst them. Worse still, there aren’t many politicians who will admit that campaign finance is a problem. In fact, most of them would fight to keep things the way they are. And why wouldn’t they? Being in politics is big business, and campaign finance reform would effectively close up the candy store.

Here’s the problem: money is everywhere in politics. In one corner, you have powerful special interest groups with loads of influence and deep pockets. In another corner, you have the people who supported their race financially and are expecting favors as a result… returns on their investments.

And then there’s the fundraising. There’s so much fundraising. There’s so much of it, in fact, that politicians have very little time to do any real work. Luckily for those elected officials, there are always plenty of other people in the room who are willing to pick up that work load for them… those special interests, who write bills themselves on their own behalves in an effort to “help.”

Until something serious is done about campaign finance reform, we can’t fix America’s flawed election system. And if we can’t fix America’s flawed election system — effectively an oligarchy with two powerful ruling parties that muscle out ideas other than their own, however practical — we aren’t going to find lasting solutions to any of those other issues. I’m sorry to be the one to have to tell you all of this. It sucks… I know.

Campaign Finance Reform Needs You As Much As You Need It!

Here’s how we fix this problem: all of us — yes, even you — need to demand campaign finance reform. And we need to refuse to vote for anyone, at any level of government, who won’t pledge themselves to this cause. That’s quite frankly the only way this is ever going to get done.

We can’t accept defeat on this issue, either. We can’t let any politician skate by without a serious commitment to campaign finance reform, followed up with a serious, lasting effort toward correcting money in politics. No empty half-gestures. No baby-steps. No “bridges to campaign finance reform” or “steps toward” meaningful change. No promises that actions today will lead to campaign finance reform five or ten or twenty years from now. We need it now. Today. This second. Now. And we cannot and should not accept anything less than someone’s full and undivided effort on fixing this problem until it’s a problem no longer.

So what should our list of demands be? That’s open for debate. But here’s a list I made that can get that debate started:

  1. Hard limits on the total amount of money campaigns are allowed to raise and/ or spend
  2. Campaigns are limited to airing three ads on television and/ or radio
  3. Overturn citizens United
  4. No campaign can accept more than $10k total from any individual or organization
  5. Campaigns may not accept donations from individuals or organizations that are not constituents of the politician, with the exception of non-profit organizations that are not directly linked with/ created by other special interests
  6. If an elected official receives funding from an organization of any kind in excess of $5000, they must clearly display that donation in all advertising and on their website(s). This can be shown as either an established company/ corporate logo or in plainly-written and clearly legible text. The FEC may change logos to text if they feel the logo is vague
  7. Outlaw any and all campaigning and fundraising on Federal property
  8. Election day made into a federal holiday. No employer outside of emergency services is allowed to force an employee to work on election day
  9. All speeches delivered during fundraising events by those seeking public office, as well as by those already holding elected office, must be made available to the public. This may include uninterrupted video, audio recordings, or the admittance of the press
  10. Every congressional district in the United States should be redrawn without influence from any politician, campaign, party, special interest group, or other outside group. Districts will be zoned by nonpartisan third-party independent groups presiding in those areas, paid by State governments. They are not allowed to use race, gender, sexual orientation, or any other immutable characteristic to determine where district lines should be drawn. They also may not consider economic status, religion, patterns of employee residence, or any other demographic other than population when drawing district lines
  11. The authors of all legislation must be clearly stated at the opening of said legislation. Any and all persons involved in the writing/ wording of the bill must be named, without exceptions
  12. Any and all laws that may directly detrimentally impact voting rights or may impact a voter’s ability to access polls must be passed by an 80% margin by their legislative bodies
  13. All political parties with one or more members in federal elected office must follow all of the laws of general elections in primaries and may not create party rules for those primaries. Only persons registered 30 days prior to election day with those parties may vote in their primaries, and those voters may not switch parties for one full year
  14. Media outlets are required by law to list any and all political contributions to campaigns and/ or parties openly at the start of each month, and display that information publicly
  15. Elected officials must spend a roughly equal amount of time with constituents as they do with representatives of special interests/ lobbyists

That’s just fifteen things, but hey, it’s a start. In truth, there are probably hundreds of changes, big and small, that need to be made in order to bring about true campaign finance reform. It’s time for politicians to start taking this issue seriously… and it’s time for all of us to make sure that happens.

Photo by Barry Solow