Over at Josh Marshall's Coffee House Nathan Newman has results of polling on the matter of public financing of elections. Very interesting stats actually. Took some notes and it goes like this -- 74% of all respondants support Public Finance, 80% of all Dem's, 65% of Republicans, and 78% of Independents so support. Of some interest is why -- and the items polled were "think likely" 82%, "good idea as a matter of leveling the playing field" - 79% and controling the power of special interests -- 77%. Very interesting. So what we need is a plan, and for 20 years I have been thinking about one, so here goes.
Let me begin my plan with Section 8, Article I of the Constitution, which gives to Congress the power to coin money. "To coin money, regulate the value thereof, and of foreign coin, and fix the standard of Weights and Measures." -- message clear, Congress can create coin of the realm. I begin here.
Congress needs to create E-$ -- that is Election Dollars. On January 1 of each even numbered year, each registered voter in the states shall have placed in an electronic account under the supervision of the Secretary of State of the States, a distribution of E$ -- equal by state, and equal by citizen registered voter. (My thinking is 30 dollars in a Presidential year, 20 if you have a senate race plus a CD, and only 10 in a non presidential year with no senate seat in contest.) Voters with E$ would be allowed to contribute only to candidates for whom they could actually vote. The ability of voters to begin to distribute E$ from their accounts would begin as of Midnight, Jan 1 of each even numbered year. Citizens who register to vote after Jan 1 would be pro-rated.
E$ would be convertable to US$ either when a candidate exits a race, or at the end of the contest -- Primary or General Election. All staff, vendors, services involved in an election campaign could only be paid in E$. Qualified financial institutions would be allowed to advance conversions (so long as they are disclosed) on bond provided in E$. But E$ would not be currency for any transaction other than campaign related activity. No other currency could be used for Campaign expenses or costs.
Now my idea is that every registered voter would have the power to distribute the same amount of money as of Jan 1 of even numbered years -- and anyone who wanted to be a candidate would have to organize to acquire those dollars -- not with big dollar fundraisers, but with on the ground organization. Door Knockers with Blackberries or lap-tops at New Years parties -- do the sports bars during the bowl games and parades, and all the rest. I would allow for allocation slips to be submitted at the post office for those voters not electronically connected -- but the point would be any candidate with an interest could deploy organization to raise E$ funds. Secretaries of State would be required to post daily results on an easily accessable web-site. Any candidate who drops out would rebate E$ funds to contributors accounts, pro-rated given legitimate expenses.
I would allow for small contributions of regular US$ to state political parties so long as expenses are for party operations and for the whole ticket, and not any particular candidate. By Party Operations, I mean all the costs of facilitating a caucus, a primary, a GOTV operation (Phone Banks for the whole ticket), and other local administrative party costs.
Based on the ratio of E$ each candidate receives, they would be allocated Radio and TV time in local media markets. But half of the TV and Radio time would have to pay for debates among and between candidates. Radio and TV would be allowed to do public service candidate access programs, so long as all active candidates are included.
At the conclusion of the election, (November, even numbered years) all vendors and staff could convert E$ to US $. All transactions would be transparent.
My system depends on something required in the Help America Vote Law, and that is interactive but state wide voter registeration rolls. Perfecting these means this system of individually and equally directed funding could work.
So what do I want to accomplish? -- first off, end the role of all special interests who cannot actually organize voters in the matter of financing a political campaign. Much is heard about the poor labor union member who doesn't want his union dues going to support a party or candidate he does not love -- but nothing is said about the financial institutions (Yer bank or credit card firm) that pay the freight of Washington Lobby work for "their" interests no matter or not whether they are in line with depositors or creditors interests. This totally solves that problem. The Lobby ceases to be a player.
If a Union or a Financial Institution want to make the case to voters -- fine, go right ahead. But the decision is in the hands of the folk able to contribute E$.
But the most important value of this system is the necessity of politicians and political parties to organize locally -- to remain representative of the people who did, or might elect them, to actually construct the means to ask voters for their E$.
I think in most uneven years most potential candidates and parties would put much effort into voter registration -- so as to get ready for Jan 1 of the Even Numbered years. That's all to the good. Can you imagine a financial incentive to expand the voter base? What a revolution.
Now my plan is for the most part, totally electronic -- and thus it is pretty cheap. But it also has other implications. Since I would not distribute E$ till Jan 1 of election years, no money primary in the big $$$$ sense of that. But I would make the primary and caucus national delegate selection window fairly short -- perhaps April 1 to June 15, and I would require these contests be scheduled by time zone, with each four years the first becoming last, and with Alaska and Hawaii being put into the underpopulated Mountain Time zone. However I would also have a "first of April" small state contest -- New Hampshire, Iowa, maybe Idaho, Deleware and Rhode Island. The point being if you have under a certain small number of electorial votes, you can choose to go first, and out of your time zone contest. Thus we would retain the feature of Retail Politics. (As a Minnesotan, I like the view of Pol's trying to navigate snow drifts in New Hampshire.) (We have bigger ones.)
Since the days when the Parties forced the League of Women Voters off the stage in the Presidential debates, I have been thinking about how a citizens organization could impose a come-back. The Stats in the Nathan Newman article on TPM Cafe suggest now is the time.