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June 22, 2006


EW: I can't reach the article on The Dark Side.

god damn sara

this is the most brilliantly innovative column on reforming money and politics that i have read in ages.

i dont know that it is THE answer, but it solves a problem of disparity (in resources) and puts citizens and potential voters in a position either to use the resources they have been given (to be involved) or to acknowledge to themselves that do not wish to contribute to their political system.

The Dark Side.

It's a movie. Luke should have ralized that the dark side is always chosen because of existence.

Dick is'nt smart enought or rich enough to be Darth Vader and, besides, there are others better at it..............

Heh. Bruce Ackerman of Yale Law School introduced this idea as early as 1993. It's still fascinating.

it's not relevant to this post, except that both deal with change in a poorly functioning political system,

but william grieder has a remarkable article at alternet (6/19)

the first few commenters on the article seem obliviously cynical but grieder makes very sound points related to a political system meeting the needs of the citizens it is supposed to serve, not of the least of these being economic needs.


Ingenious. And another example of why you are my favorite blogger.

But I think it is the wrong approach. And, anyway, it would not survive constitutional scrutiny under the idiotic Buckley v. Valeo decision. Especially not with this court.

General principles. First, public financing is needed, but it is not all that is needed. Money corrupts public debate (and so, legislation) because pols will tailor the focus of their remarks and legislative efforts to curry favor with contributors. But there are also many other facots at work.

We need a more transparent Congress and Executive branch. We need different media routines. We need different cultural attitudes toward information and decisions -- probably to be achieved only slowly through school programs.

That brings me to my second point. Election slogan competitions are the wrong focus for progress. Witless pandering will always be the rule then. The only way to make the more egregious type less persuasive (and so less effective) is by shaping public opinion long before the campaign starts.

By the time the campaign starts, it is too late. People stop listening in any real way and start "hearing" only through the filter of tribal allegiances.

Third, the premise of your approach is that people vote (with their contributions) to determine whose message will be the loudest. I think that is flawed. Better to amplify all messages to a more or less equal degree, and let people judge on reason and values.

I prefer a simple system with high public funding level for those who agree not to use other financing. A minimum to give people a voice in the arena. I would not try to control other voices.

Now, of course, it does make sense to prohibit any contribuitons by corporations. Corporatons are not "persons" -- as the idiots in the SCT have held. But unfortunately, we are faced with the need for a constitutional amendment to establish (again) the self-evident fact that corporations are not persons.

We probably also need a constitutional amendment to deal with gerrymandering.

But in the short run, I think our main focus should be to make Congress more transparent, demand that our political parties devote themselves to developing coherent policy options and message,, nurturing an interest in serious debate among young people through contests and prizes, and seeking to reduce partisan tribalism thourgh joint social service activities (both parties sponsoring youth sports, concerts, senior activities, etc.).

Public Financing of elections is essesntial, but we should not put too much faith in it. It is not enough to address the larger problem.

''Ingenious. And another example of why you are my favorite blogger.''

Sara brings the blog essay to new heights. This is not just a hit-and-run appetizer, it's a full course dinner to savor.

Sara, what a superb, well thought out proposal.

OT, I've had a vaguely analagous idea about gasoline rationing: each individual would receive a certain number of gasoline credits at the beginning of each year to use to buy gas (they'd still have to pay the pump price) or to sell to rich folks with fleets of gas-guzzlers. There'd be a market in gas ration credits that would benefit those who didn't have to use much gas.

Anyway, back to public financing of elections, your scheme is the most workable in any detail that I've heard. I found my self thinking that ANY public-financing scheme requires action on the part of those wed to the current corrupt system: member of Congress. You've offered a rational solution, now we have to figure out how to persuade them to resist the corporations that currently control Congress. You know they would fight actual public financing tooth and nail.

Yea, the Ackerman piece from 1993 is generally along the lines of my thinking, though my description clearly is post web, post internet electronic transfer thinking. But other than that (and I suspect my idea would be much more cheap and simple to administer) the cultural argument is the same -- it is a voucher for a specific purpose.

Moreover, I think it is totally constitutional. Nothing in this plan would preclude a special interest from making advertising and buying TV time, for instance, to promote policy ideas. The only thing they could not do is link their policy advocacy to specific candidates and parties. If you oppose Abortion fine -- make an advertisement about your opposition. If you are on the pro-choice side -- do the same. Policy advocacy disconnected from elections would not be impacted. I think we would have a much improved policy dialogue if it could be on its own terms, and not interwoven with an election. I think what concerns the court is any restriction on free speech and discourse, and I am not doing that. If a candidate with good E$ wants to take up a cause and spend election money advocating that cause -- no problem. I actually doubt if it would happen very often because most successful candidacies are carefully crafted coalitions of messages, issues, and the persona, identity and values of a candidate matched to the constituency.

I am certain that others can re-work this and improve on it -- and given the level of interest reflected in Nathan Newman's reported polls -- I would suggest now is the time to put something concrete on the table so as to focus debate. It won't solve all the problems of the world but it does get at some. I really believe we have to build a very high wall between Elected Officials and Lobbists. Advocacy is fine but when it comes tied up with political fund raising, contributions to official's PACS, to party PACS, to Jack Abramoff's favorite charity for poor kids access to sports, but actually spends the money on Scottish Golf Games -- it is just time to create new systems that eliminate all the rot. Essentially I am an FDR kind of Democrat -- if something is broken (as was much during the depression) -- try something new. If it doesn't work -- then try something else.

with respect to sara's comment on her own post

the key info is at the bottom ("If something is broken ...).

that says (to me, at least,) that all the who-ha about a democratic manifesto, a democratic "contract", is so much nonsense.

politics, in my uninformed opinion, is, fundamentally, about perpetually and competently adjusting to a society's needs.

when your tribe cannot find water for the camels, the "leaders" either adjust and find a solution or the camels die. when the camels die, the tribes well-worked out economy is damaged or completely destroyed.

politicians adjusting to the needs of their people is serious stuff. it should not be about forty-something males who have suddenly acquired power expressing their juvenile aggressive fantasies to use the powers of our nation to incite war and destruction.

the american constitution was developed along an essentially economic model in which voters had the right to "buy" or "not buy" their rulers decisions.

i emphasize "had".

from this i infer that the democrats do not need a "master plan", a grand design, or (god forbid) a conning "contract".

democrats need to point out the specific problems we face as a society and the failures of the bush administration to deal with these problems.

then, once in power,

democrats need to gather the "elders" to propose solutions to these problems.

or, stated in contemporary jargon, work with the involved and afflicted parties to come up with a "temporary" solution to what ever problem is at issue.


yes indeed.

all politics is temporary.

no one knows when the next hurricane, stock market crash, terrorist attack, volcanic eruption, or oil disruption will come from - not to mention drought at the oasis.

give the citizens e$,

and with those dollars and the restrictions suggested above, they can collectively decide who has tackled, or will tackle, the specific problems best.


As someone above noted, your plan requires Congress to act, and the dirty little secret about campaign financing is that the incumbents do not want any system that gives challengers a fair chance.

The only way to get a radical change (as you suggest) would be to spin the program as the end all be all cure for all problems. Politically, you would have to do that. Even then, it probably wouldn't work.

A system for Congress modeled on Presidential campaign funding is more familiar, and so more acceptable. A better chance to get that as a starting point.

Also, your 'voucher for speech" program, I suspect, could be manipulated. And used to effectively silence unpopular voices.

In any event, I think a more modest proposal along the Presidential lines might be easier -- not easy -- to achieve.

``We probably also need a constitutional amendment to deal with gerrymandering.''

Well, if we going that far, we might as well add in proportional representation for the House while we are at it, preferably Single Transferable Vote, but I will take the German two vote system (one for the party, one for the candidate) if STV doth not please. The Congress won't do that, either. We have a system in which the representatives choose their voters (gerrymandering) rather than the other way around, and in which sizeable political minorities get no political representation at all. And they like it that way, and we have almost no way, as was observed above, to force them to change the system.

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