ELECTION AND CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM
By James Robert Deal
Election reform, campaign finance reform, and public disclosure reform should all be addressed together. They overlap. You cannot do a good job of fixing one without fixing them all.
The goals should be
- to simplify the process of campaign finance reporting,
- to open up the process so that people with good ideas but little means can run,
- to reduce the amount of money it takes to run an election,
- to limit the amount any one person or couple can contribute,
- to exclude corporations from contributing directly or indirectly
- to prevent corporations from encouraging employees to contribute and from reimbursing employees from contributing, and
- to prevent lobbyists from arranging or negotiating campaign contributions.
I hear constantly that we should “take the money out of politics”. But I do not hear anyone explaining what that means or how we would do it. We have a Public Disclosure Commission, however it only requires candidates to reveal who is contributing and how much. Public disclosure is not good enough. Public disclosure will not get the big money out of politics.
It takes an enormous amount of money to pay for TV ads, radio ads, billboards, yard signs, printing and mailing of hundreds of thousands of fliers, and maintaining a campaign organization. Those who contribute to the campaign to some extent control the positions that the candidate takes. A candidate might change his positions to please the contributor. Or a contributor might choose to finance a candidate only if the candidate is known to support the contributor’s positions. It is usually a bit of both. Big corporations encourage employees to donate to friendly candidates reward them with “incentives” for doing so.
I advocate a system which would greatly limit the amounts which may be contributed and which would reduce the cost of campaigning. The state would reduce the cost of campaigning by supplying election technology and services which would enable candidates to present their campaign and reach the general voting public for a relatively small amount of money.
This is a call for a limitation on the size of donations and the partial public funding of elections. I would suggest, for a state-wide race such as governor, for example, that the state issue a state-wide voter pamphlets and issue them several times during the campaign. For the August 2 primary this year, the state is not publishing a state-wide voter pamphlet at all. It is my understanding that this practice began when the Great Recession set in around 2008. The legislature has not reinstituted the state-wide voter pamphlet. Only six of Washington’s 39 counties issued their own voter pamphlets for the primary: Whatcom, Snohomish, King, Pierce, Thurston, and Clark. This means that there was no easy way for voters in the other 33 counties even to know my web site URL or to know the URL for the TVW five-minute speech all the candidates recorded, or even to know that the recorded speeches exist. The current neglect of the primary election favors incumbents and those with strong party support.
Many people do not even know which channel to go to in order to view TVW. There is a channel locator, and the voter pamphlet should include the chart found at this link.
The state would pay for ads on commercial radio and TV which would inform people that they can hear the candidates on TVW.
The state would also buy space in newspapers and publish each candidate’s 500 word statement every two weeks.
The state would make available to each candidate a professional blogging web site which includes a tool for accepting contributions, plus coaching on setting up a Facebook Group and a Twitter site.
Seattle has enacted a system where each voter is issued credits which can be assigned to favored candidates.
The state would publish monthly voter pamphlets during the campaign season so that candidates would be able to present their platform. The state would arrange for frequent round table discussions between the candidates and televise them on TV Washington.
The objection to be expected is that the public financing of campaigns would be too expensive. My response is: More expensive than what? More expensive than letting large moneyed interests controlling our politicians? That is really expensive. That is what we have now.
None of these campaign tools would be costly. They would certainly cost less than the way candidates currently reach voters – by news paper ads, by TV commercials, by cards mailed to every home.
We should make the PDC.wa.gov public disclosure reporting more user friendly.
We should put a lid on the amount a person or couple can donate. I would suggest a $200 limit instead of the current $2,000 limit.
We should make it illegal for corporations to donate or for corporations to encourage employees to contribute or to award “incentives” to those who contribute, or to raise salaries or pay bonuses with the understanding that said increases in salaries and bonuses are reimbursement for donations to candidates. It should be illegal for corporations to say anything to their employees about how they should vote. It should be illegal for corporations to discriminate against an employee on any level for supporting a candidate that the corporation does not like.
Moreover, it should be illegal for any lobbyist to participate in any way in fundraising for a candidate or to offer or communicate to a candidate that contributions to his campaign may come from those who hired him to lobby. Instead of relying almost exclusively on paid lobbyists, the legislature should actively solicit input from ordinary citizens and work to obtain it and compensate well-qualified citizens for their costs and time away from work.
Corporations are not people. They do not have the right to vote nor the right to pay or compel people to vote as they wish. I disagree with the Citizens United case of 2010 that said that corporations have the right of free speech, and I am confident that Citizens United will be reversed. I would urge the passage of Washington laws which would prohibit corporations from contributing to candidates or engaging in electioneering spending through PACs, which would favor a candidate.
Regarding the election process itself, I would propose a constitutional change which would make it easier for newcomers and those without party funding to campaign on a fair footing. Instead of a primary in August and a general election in November, I would suggest a four-step process. For example, beginning in January of 2020, any person seeking office could begin obtaining signatures to a petition for election. If a person obtained 500 signatures for a local race or 5,000 signatures for a state-wide race, that person would become a candidate. Petitions would be turned in by March 1.
Let’s assume that 30 candidates submit the necessary number of signatures to run for the office of governor. Those who have obtained the necessary number of signatures would be included in the first voter pamphlet, which would be published March 15. A second voter pamphlet would be published on April 15. A first primary would be held on or about May 15. This would narrow the number of candidates to four. A second primary would be held on the first Tuesday in August, which would narrow the number of candidates to two. Voter pamphlets would be published in September and October in order to assist candidates in competing without spending large sums. Likewise, the state would pay for TVW debates and interviews. The state would pay to advertise TVW appearances in conventional media such as newspapers, television, and radio.
Our current system favors incumbents, those with strong party support, and those who are rich. My proposal would bring new blood into the political process, people who are experts at more than just raising campaign donations and getting 50.1% of the vote.
And I am in favor of instant runoff voting, also known as ranked-choice voting. A voter who really likes Jill Stein would be able to vote for her but also to vote for Hillary Clinton as the voter’s second choice. People would be able to vote for the candidate they really like without “throwing their vote away”.
Currently, the Liberal Party of Candida favors instant-runoff voting. It’s a system already used by many governments, including the Australian House of Representatives and many of Australia’s state legislatures.
It is imperative that we get the big money our of politics. What I am proposing would do that.