Steel City Cowboy

Monday, December 05, 2005

The Only Real Solution to Campaign Finance Reform

Originally written for my personal blog about six months ago, but it just got linked from Instapundit (woo hoo!), so I thought it was worth putting up here, too:

I had begun a snarky, glib post about what would need to be done to fix our current Federal political system, namely the way that incumbents almost never lose, and get all kinds of crazy bribe money, both legal and illegal.

I'm not going to post it, as I just realized the other day the only real measure that will fix the system permanently. I mean, I still think that Congressional term limits and the abolition of Gerrymandering is a great idea, and something that should be fought for. But no amount of rule changes or legal restrictions are going to be able to keep up with the ingenuity of people who are chasing large amounts of money. Think of it like this: the entire polity, economy and government of the United States is like an Internet-style routing machine for money. People will find a way to the money. Or better yet, think of it in meteorological terms: people and organizations are the negatively charged ground; money is the positively charged sky. In both cases, people and money are going to come together, along the most efficient path that the laws of physics (or routing protocols) will allow.

And that brought me to the only solution that can last: get rid of the money in government. Not the campaign finance money, the hard and soft contributions, or the 527's. The more I tried to figure out what could be done about cutting off the routes through which people can influence the government, the more I realized that any kind of regulatory restriction on Americans speaking out for their chosen candidates either as individuals or as groups, in the form of donations or actual speech, was simply wrong, and counter to the principles to which I think we should adhere.

The money I'm talking about getting rid of is the money that the government has at its disposal. Why do lobbying groups spend millions upon millions of dollars every year just to influence one or two little phrases in a piece of legislation? Because those two phrases could amount to an even greater financial return for the organizations and people that those lobbyists represent. For them, the most efficient route to a higher profit happens to runs directly through Congress.

The logic would follow that the more you cut the scope of government, i.e. restricting its purchasing power by way of lower taxes and lower tax revenues, the less incentive people and organizations will have to spend their cash hoping to get more of that money back in return.

Let's say, just for fun, that both Social Security and Medicare have been privatized and removed entirely from the federal government's budget and purvue. Also gone are the ludicrous pork projects that the legislators use in order to look like heroes to their constituents, regardless of their actual political and ideological persuasion. What's left? Not a lot.

Would it be possible that, with only 1/3 of their original money to throw around and a significantly smaller legislative and bureaucratic footprint within which to hide abusive bribe-based legislation and regulation, we would see individuals and organizations focus their money-making efforts elsewhere? Company A or Donor B suddenly finds that the government not only won't help them out anymore, but simply can't because it doesn't have the funds or the authority. Once the return on the investment in lobbying stops becoming cost-effective, organizations will find other, more productive ways to invest that money, and the gravy train from said donors will suddenly disappear.

Where does that leave the rest of us? Better off or worse? It's true that with the profit motive removed from the majority of political advocacy (and helped along by term limits) that you would probably see people become involved with politics at all levels more for ideological than financial reasons. Would that only accelerate the takeover of the two main parties by their fringe of crazy-eyed zealots? Or would they, too, turn to other avenues of getting their message out when they find that the power of government can no longer help them in the ways that they thought it could?

It seems to me that there is no functional way to limit the expression of the people's political choices. That may never have been the problem, and all of our attempts thus far at campaign finance reform are just shooting at the wrong target. The problem has been, and even more so in recent years, that the government has too much power and too much money. Cut that to the bone and all of the distasteful things people have been crying about: corrupt money, the de-facto bribery, the... well, basically it all boils down to corrupt money. It all goes away, or at least drops to a level that would be tolerable to most people.

As the easy government money floats off into memory, I'd even be willing to bet that you'd see a shift in the tone of rhetoric. I realize that both Republicans and Democrats to a certain degree believe the things they say on the floor of Congress and to the TV news cameras, but I know human nature. And knowing that, I have to conclude that as much as they believe in their ideals, they are also influenced by the animal part of their brain into doing and saying things just so they can hold on to what may be the cushiest, most perk-laden job that an American can have. Threaten someone's way of life, and they'll become just as shrill and nasty as any Senator, Congressman or Presidential candidate that we've seen in the last twenty years. When the stakes aren't so high, there won't be as much reason to shed the tears and make the outrageous accusations.

Way smaller government. Way lower taxes. My plan for campaign finance reform. I don't think John McCain or Russ Feingold would like it.

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