Issues2004: Election reform

Issues2004: Election reform

: Every time I scream and shout about protecting the First Amendment (and Howard Stern) against the repression of the FCC, a commenter or two whines that I don’t similarly defend free speech when it comes to federal election laws limiting contributions. I ignored them — first because it pisses them off (hey, a blogger has to have some fun) and second because I honestly don’t know what I think about election reform. It’s a one-hand/other-hand thing for me.

On the one hand, as an absolutist on free speech and the First Amendment, I agree with those commenters that free speech should extend to elections — of all activities.

On the other hand, I am concerned about the lobbyists and special-interest groups and now hate groups using their money to hijack elections.

On another hand, if we limit some people but then allow the Bloombergs and Corzines to come in and spend their wealth to get elected, then that is unfair to all of us who aren’t rich.

On yet another hand, I think it’s ridiculous that we individuals are limited on what we can spend on a candidate; it’s our country and our money, eh?

And on another hand, I wonder whether the limitations on candidate contributions are only channelling more money to fringe groups like the Swifties and MoveOn and thus only fueling the mudslinging and nastiness of this campaign.

Anybody have few extra hands?

In the end, I think we’re trying to approach this from the wrong end. We are trying to legislate ethics — with politicians, of all people. And it’s not going to work.

Election laws and the loopholes that magically appear in them only provide ethical cover for politicians, parties, and pressure groups to go ahead and game the system however they can. Hey, it’s not my fault, they say when caught with mud on their hands; I’m following the law.

So what we should be doing instead is pressuring the political parties to adopt their own voluntary standards for ethical campaigning and slamming those who don’t. Election reform should come from within the parties. They should limit their spending and refuse some contributions and those who don’t are only revealing themselves as slime.

Media — and citizens online — should monitor their financial behavior closely, for I still believe that everything should be transparent.

We also need to shorten the election schedule. This torture goes on way too long. We do need time to push the candidates and smoke out the bozos (read: Dean) but we don’t need this much time. It only adds to the bile and the bill.

At the same time, we need to reform the primary process, for it disenfranchises too many Americans from the selection of candidates.

And, finally, I agree with those who say it’s time to blow up the Electoral College, which also disenfranchises voters (see: 2000).

We need to rebuild the primary and election process around the principle of one person, one vote — and mean it. Then the candidates will have to campaign to all citizens and won’t be able to ignore those in “safe” states.

Finally, yes, I’ll agree that we need to respect the free-speech right of Americans to put their money where their votes are. On principle, I do have a problem with limiting what we can contribute. That’s why I’d prefer to see candidates and parties agree to limit on their own what they accept.

One more thing: Once upon a time, I might have argued that it was important to give candidates free airtime — on “our airwaves” — as a quid pro quo for the free spectrum we give broadcasters. But I’m not so hot on that idea today for two reasons: First, TV ads are turning into the most destructive bullets of campaigns and fringe groups. Second, the internet will overtake TV as an important medium for campaigning and it will offer more depth and diversity.

That’s what I say. What do you say? (Other Issues2004 posts here.)