There are, it seems, many people in this country (USA) who think or feel that our political system is broken, not representing them, corrupted, and/or paralyzed by intractable partisanship. I tend to agree and have spent some time pondering what changes might make a significant difference. In doing so, I keep coming back to a basic rule of life, “You work for who pays you.” I take from that that if voters are going to have elected representatives who they are assured actually represent them, then it is they, the voters who must be the source of the means to run for office, not any other individuals, groups, or organizations. From that thought I have derived some proposals for a system that would achieve that condition. Frankly, I see the probability of any of these actually being adopted and implemented in the foreseeable future as a good bit less than those of the proverbial snowball in Hell, but I decided to write them up anyway. One of them, the one about redistricting, has some chance and has been talked about in various forms, so that’s a start.
1. REDISTRICTING – When elected officials are able to substantially choose their voters through the redistricting practice known as Gerrymandering some large measure of corruption and chicanery are inevitable. The rewards are too great to be resisted. Therefore, the process of redistricting needs to be a purely professional and technical affair based solely on population numbers and geography, and not in any way controlled, influenced, or subject to the approval of any office holder, former office holder, or prospective office holder, elected or appointed.
2. CAMPAIGN FINANCE – If, you work for who pays you, who should candidates have to turn to for the means to run for office? The answer is simple; the registered voters who can actually vote for them, and nobody else. All contributions to a campaign fund, whether in money, goods, services, or labor would have to be provided only by individual registered voters in the district in question. Incumbents and candidates would be forbidden from soliciting or accepting donations from any other source. Any violation would be a felony punishable by fines, imprisonment, and possibly disqualification from holding and public office for life.
3. PARTY FINANCE – Under the same way of thinking, where should the money of political parties come from? The answer would be the same, from the grass roots up. This might be by way of candidates passing money up the organization from what they raise from their constituents, perhaps in the form of membership dues. Or, in addition to candidate dues, if a voter wanted to be registered as a member of a party, they might also need to pay dues (non-refundable if they wanted to change their party affiliation, probably). Obviously, this might tend to encourage more of both candidates and voters to identify as independent or unaffiliated.
4. OUTSIDE GROUPS – FOR PROFIT BUSINESS – For profit businesses would be strictly forbidden from contributing to candidate campaigns or advertising on behalf of candidates. Their owners (including share holders), officers, board members, and employees would be free to donate to, and speak on behalf of candidates as individuals if and only if they, personally, were able to vote for that candidate. What about “issue ads”? A business can legitimately have an opinion on an issue such as a tax provision, regulatory rule, trade policy, etc. which will have consequences for its operations and profits. The rule would be that the owner, CEO, or Chair of the Board of Directors could make an ad explaining why and how a particular policy, law, or regulation would benefit or harm the business. There could be only that individual talking, only about the business, without appeals to patriotism, or images of prosperity or disaster, just one talking head.
5. OUTSIDE GROUPS – NON-PROFIT – The rules for non-profits would be much the same as for businesses, but with the emphasis on the mission statement of the organization and how the outcome of an issue would affect its accomplishment of that defined mission. All 501Cx corporations would operate under the same rules regarding political involvement.
6. CAMPAIGN SEASON – This has to be shortened. The current system is simply exausting for all concerned. I suggest a rule that no one may announce candidacy for any office (exceptions for special, out of season, or recall elections), or begin accepting or spending campaign donations until the first business day of the year in which the election will be held. One benefit of this would be that, for example, Members of the House of Representatives would have an entire year without fund raising in which to just do their jobs, read the bills they have to vote on, get to know their constituents, and get to know each other. Senators would have five years free of fund raising to do their jobs.
7. PRIMARIES – Our primary election system as it stands is maddeningly complicated and expensive. I rather like the idea of open primaries which tend to reduce the influence of the most radical, angry, and ideologically ridged factions of a party. They may also improve the chances of independent and small party candidates.
8. PACs, Super PACs, & “dark money” – Gone – See the rules for non-profits and campaign donations.
Where might all that take us? One possibility would be that there would be enough independent and small party candidates elected that in some legislative bodies no party would have a majority. For example, someone who happened to be fiscally liberal and socially conservative, or the other way around, could vote in one way on some bills and another way on others without being bound by a party position. Also, a Speaker Of The House could be chosen for their knowledge of the rules, fairness, and ability to negotiate compromise rather than party domination. That would be interesting.
So, there is a thought experiment, mostly a fantasy. Today, as I finish this is Election Day. However broken, dysfunctional, or corrupt one may thing the system is, it is time to vote and live with the collective choice until the next time.