Getting Big Money Out of Politics: A Solution

By Joe Firestone, New Economic Perspectives, February 26, 2014

A lot of Americans have the feeling that those who have and supply big money to candidates, office holders, lobby groups, think tanks, and media have bought politics. That it is they who are determining the agendas that office holders act upon and even the specific decisions they make in passing laws and rendering executive and even judicial decisions. This short post won’t debate the extent to which big money has perverted democratic processes in the United States. Instead it will offer a simple, perhaps an oversimple, solution to the problem that will really work. Here it is.

If you really want to do something about this, then just follow a very simple rule. If the election you’re voting in is virtually a two candidate contest, then vote for the candidate, who, in combination with her/his supporters spends the least amount of money. In a virtual multi-candidate contest, do the same thing.

That’s the proposal, in its simplest form. Its objective is to reverse the current race to the bottom in buying elections by ensuring that there would be a powerful incentive to start a race to the top to raise and spend as little money as possible in campaigns. That incentive is that if you spend too much you lose, pure and simple. 

The other rationale for the rule is that the person who raises and spends the least amount of money for a campaign, will generally be the person who is “less bought” by wealthy people, financial interests, and large corporations. Eventually, if the rule took hold it would no longer be said of the Congress that “the banks own the place.”

Now, some clarification: by “virtual” I mean that you have to make a prior assessment of the candidates who have a chance to win, because if you don’t, and if a person with little or no resources runs, then you’ll be driving all fund raising out of politics, which would then probably bias elections even more towards well-known incumbents and celebrities than is the case now.

What about excluding third party candidates if you apply the “virtual” notion? Well, I don’t see that applying the rule would make things any worse than they are now, since people already do that kind of exclusion of third party candidates. In fact, as time passes, applying the rule as stated may actually improve the chances of third party candidates, by driving spending down for major party candidates, thereby affecting the perceptions people have about the chances of third party candidates.

A final point: to get enough people following this rule for it to be effective, we’ll need a movement to mobilize people to use it. This could begin by making the idea go viral on the web (get it picked up by Upworthy), and continue with petition drives aimed at candidates for office. What if, in a Congressional primary, general election, or both, the major candidates for office were presented with petitions signed by 50,000 voters saying that the undersigned will vote for the candidate who, along with her/his supporters, spent the least amount of money? Would they compete for that distinction and the 50,000 votes?

I think they would!