Tuesday, October 21, 2008

No matter who wins this election,

There are two sure losers. The first is public funding of elections. both McCain and Obama promised to limit themselves to public financing. Senator Obama broke his promise, and proved in the process that there are no consequences for doing so- no one outside Senator McCain's immediate family is raising the issue or cares about it. But if there are no consequences, there certainly are benefits- Senator Obama raised more than $150 million in September alone- nearly double the $84 million McCain gets for September and October combined. This pushes Senator Obama's total fundraising to over $605 million- many pundits are predicting the 2012 elections will see candidates raising over $1 billion each.

The other sure loser is third parties. Many have said that the primary intent of campaign reform is to freeze out third parties... whether that was the intent or not, it most certainly been the effect. All third parties are caught in a political Catch 22: the only way to raise money in large numbers of small contributions is to have a nationwide political machine in place, and the only way to build such a machine is with large contributions. This produces a second Catch 22: the major party candidates get free ink as simple news coverage, but the "unimportant" candidates do not- and, of course, with neither money nor free ink they will always be "unimportant". Notice that neither the Greens nor the Libertarians were invited to the debates.

Notice also that this stifling of third parties has been the only effect of campaign finance reform. Money is more important than ever, and the tone of campaigns haven't improved, either- campaign reform has been, overall, a bigger failure than the war on drugs. I propose that all such laws be scrapped in favor of a simpler system: let the parties and the candidates accept whatever they can get from whoever will give it- but with full and prior disclosure. Make the parties list every contributor on their websites, before the checks are cashed. You know, kind of like the system in place when the nation and the major parties were founded.

Or we could just continue to let the heads of the DNC and RNC decide between themselves who we are allowed to see in a debate and have on our ballots... and somehow expect real change to come about anyway.

7 comments:

Steve Caldwell said...

Joel wrote:
-snip-
"The other sure loser is third parties."

If we want to have robust third parties in the US, we would have to move from a plurality rule election system to proportional representation.

The political science folks call this "Duverger's law":

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duverger%27s_law

I suppose it's possible that a third party could replace one of the existing major parties. It's happened before (the GOP replacing the Whigs just prior to the Civil War).

But our political system is unfriendly to robust third parties for reasons unrelated to campaign finance reform.

Joel Monka said...

"Duverger's law" applies more to parliaments or congress; you cannot have proportional representation for a single elected office such as President. Nor is proportional representation necessary for third parties to get people elected to office- Libertarians have gotten a lot of local offices, and Jesse Ventura even won a Governorship.

But to parlay such victories into a national party, massive funding is needed, and under current election finance laws, that simply isn't possible. There is plenty of desire for more options- note that both Nixon and Clinton won with less than 50% of the vote.

And yes, our system is unfriendly to third parties for reasons unrelated to finance, but those reasons are things written by the two parties to benefit the two parties- impossibly high petition requirements with ridiculously short deadlines, etc.

ogre said...

the only way to raise money in large numbers of small contributions is to have a nationwide political machine in place, and the only way to build such a machine is with large contributions.

Really? How expensive would it be to replicate ActBlue?

I think you're indulging in a bit of exaggeration and perfect hindsight, Joel. The very idea that the internet was a spiffy way to raise money was a silly idea that the Dean campaign turned into a golden goose four years ago.

But the truth is that the GOP doesn't lack for large donors, and could certainly have created an analog of its own. Perhaps it has, but if so, I've never seen any indication of it.

It's not enough to have a system that could take in small donation money. You have to have small donors who are willing to give, too.

But fine, we'll make the presumption that it takes some Big Donations to make such a system. There must be at least 5-10% of the population who think of themselves as Libertarians. Some of them certainly aren't poor--so where are the wealthy Libertarians organizing to pool their large donations to enable their less well-off enthusiasts to donate their smaller but important donations to fund Libertarian candidates?

There's some mix in all this of failures of enthusiasm, of belief, of trust and of will.

And while you're correct that Duverger's law doesn't apply to the election of the president... the party system doesn't exist because of it and for it. It exists because there are lots of offices that aren't single, executive posts. Were we to have some sort of proportional representation in the legislative branch... there'd be more parties that would be able to take and hold some degree of representation--and that would make a major difference in how presidential politics would work, simply because such parties would be legitimized by their existence in a practical sense (with representation). Right now? They don't, and that helps make the very idea of a candidate from a party that can't even elect a few people to Congress patently absurd.

Joel Monka said...

There's no shortage of big contributors to the Libertarians- but the limit a person may legally give to a candidate is $2,300. That means that to match McCain's public funds, we'd need 36,522 contributors able to give the maximum. To match Senator Obama's fundraising for September, it would take 65,218 such contributors. To match Obama's total fundraising so far would take 263,044 max contributors. Yes, one can raise money on the internet, but Senator Obama sent 632,000 emails to get his September total- where does a start-up party get that many addresses?

ogre said...

Joel, this is where the donations aren't to a candidate, but to a party--and there... well, big donors can donate much more. That's party building and the like, the process of creating state offices (which can later support candidates, but aren't part of the campaign, as such) and the development of resources.

That means that to match McCain's public funds, we'd need 36,522 contributors able to give the maximum.

You're off on the presidential campaign again--which is not the first place to contest, because you have to have the infrastructure in place. And you're looking at maxed out donors...

To match Senator Obama's fundraising for September, it would take 65,218 such contributors. To match Obama's total fundraising so far would take 263,044 max contributors. Yes, one can raise money on the internet, but Senator Obama sent 632,000 emails to get his September total- where does a start-up party get that many addresses?

The hard way--you collect the names of potential donors and former donors. And you develop them.

And you don't start trying to out-raise the biggest donation base in history on a national level. You target seats in the House, and in state legislatures.

Those campaigns can and do get run on far smaller budgets.

allpoints said...

This is unfortunate. Now that(IMO) the Republican Party has lost its credibility in foriegn policy and economic policy, we would, reasonably, expect it to become a theocratic party based mainly in the South, with a new conservative party replacing it in the national arena.

Joel Monka said...

That's what old style conservatives would want, and in a rational system that's what would happen, but in our system it can't.