Public Comment

A Proposal For Campaign Finance Reform

Thomas Ulatowski
Friday January 15, 2016 - 11:57:00 AM

Even JFK complained about the high cost of running for elected office! To try to get elected our political system requires candidates to spend so much for media adds that it practically forces them to take bribes from multinational corporations and special interest groups. So it is no wonder that our politics are in disarray. 

Consider this fact. It is far easier to study and to evaluate difficult ideas when they are in print. This is why educational institutions use expensive textbooks and important business and governmental reports are distributed on paper. Therefore, my proposal for campaign finance reform is to make more use of the written word by requiring candidates to register their plans in written reports which the voters could analyze in depth. 

Here's how my proposal would work. Once a politician gets his name on the ballot, his next requirement should be to submit a position paper. Then the government would mail these papers to the registered voters. (Spanish translations, Braille versions and audio recordings could easily be made available.) The critical point is that by campaign-finance standards this proposal would be extremely cheap! Also, since no one can get elected without communicating with the electorate, it would be reasonable to require the candidates to pay for their report's reproduction and distribution. 

These reports would be our primary focus for evaluation of the candidates' proposals; so there are a few things we can require from the candidates in order to make these documents as enlightening as possible. The length of these papers should be limited to about two to three pages (shorter for local offices, longer for statewide or national offices which involve more issues). The short length will force the candidates to get right to the heart of their intentions. The candidates should be required to list all of the issues which concern them and tell how he or she intends to deal with each issue. Also, we should request the reasons for their choice of issues and the motivation for their proposed course of action. These requirements should make the reports very revealing. 

Of course, there is no objective formula to determine whether these requirements are met--the voters will have to decide this for themselves. However, if candidates duck any of the requirements, it would be correct for the voters to count that against them. 

This proposal should improve democratic participation because civic groups could meet to read and discuss the reports. In addition, the reports will contain positive proposals, unlike media adds which are increasingly negative. The most significant consequence of this proposal is that it will level the playing field so that non-incumbents who generally have far fewer financial resources will have a better chance to publicize new ideas and to get elected. This improved competition should produce better elected officials. 

One final point: Our current campaign finance law (which limits political speech during the campaign) can't be constitutional. I imagine that it was upheld by the Supreme Court only because there was no apparent reasonable alternative. This proposal is the reasonable alternative.