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Wag The Blog: Funding Presidential Campaigns

The 2008 election will be historic for a number of reasons -- not the least of which is that it will almost certainly be the most expensive presidential race in history, with a price tag that some believe will top $1 billion.

All three Democratic frontrunners -- Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards -- have all begun to collect contributions for the primary and the general election, foregoing the acceptance of public funds for either contest.

With the top Democrats bypassing public financing, the eventual Republican nominee is almost certain to follow suit. John McCain, a leading advocate of campaign finance reform and his party's presidential frontrunner, has already said publicly that the public financing system is out of date; he has purposefully refused to rule out opting out in 2008.

For today's Wag the Blog, The Fix asks you what changes could and should be made to revive the public financing system? Or is public financing a thing of the past? If so, is that a good thing or a bad thing for American elections?

Your thoughts and ideas are welcome in the comments section below. Remember that Wag the Blog aims to foster intelligent discussion not partisan name-calling. In hopes of raising the dialogue, we'll pull out a few of the most insightful or interesting ideas in a separate post later today.

By Chris Cillizza  |  February 22, 2007; 8:41 AM ET
Categories:  Wag The Blog  
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Comments

A more simple approach to campaign financing would require rules such as:

Candidates must DECLARE for an office BEFORE they bank the first dollar.

ALL contributions for PRIMARY contests MUST be made by INDIVIDUALS and could not exceed X dollars.

There shall be 4 NATIONAL PRIMARY DAYS based on regions--at one month intervals beginning after April 15th of an election year.

Voting shall take place on a designated SUNDAY in each region.

Candidates MUST return all contributions unused during the primary periods.

NO funds for the general presidential election can be raised until AUGUST 15th of an election year.

The presidential election shall be on the SECOND SUNDAY of November.

Within 30 days of a presidential election ALL bills must be paid.

Within 60 days of a presidential election ALL unused funds MUST be returned to donors.

Posted by: SLG | February 27, 2007 10:59 AM | Report abuse

Since the NFL and MLB are the most competitive sports leagues out there, why not organize our political system like them? Have a solid spending cap. You can raise money from whomever you want (no public funding), but once you hit say $120 mil for primary and $250 mil, you can't raise or spend anymore.

It has worked to make the sports leagues more competitive. Why not try it for the White House?

Posted by: Expat Teacher | February 23, 2007 5:39 PM | Report abuse

Why should we devise a new way to pay for never ending 15 and 30 second spots in the states unlucky enough to be contested that tell you A) I am for good things and B) my opponent is against good things and for bad things. Student council races in elementary schools are more cerebral than Presidential races.

If campaigns are expensive enough and we keep a low cap on individual contributions, any single contribution will be diluted in comparison to the whole. If you outlaw Rangers and Pioneers while making commercial time more expensive we'll price corruption and influence peddling out of campaigning.

I do like DS's idea to tax campaign contributions. That's an awful lot of money changing hands tax free.

Posted by: muD | February 22, 2007 1:17 PM | Report abuse

JD: it's the context. The D's don't have the votes to 'end' (however Will defines it) the war in the Senate and so their 'courage' to end it is a moot point if they cannot override a presidential veto. All they would accomplish would be to (1) change nothing in Iraq while (2) losing political points at home in time for the 2008 election. Will is fully aware of this but still throws stones.

The restrictions the D's are proposing, that he poo-poos, are pretty crafty in my view. Designed to attract votes while winding down the war while still supporting the troops. No wonder Will hates them.

Let us remember that 'courage' means "strength from the heart" and that we are talking about politicians, a group known for its constant triangulating. Accusing them of not having courage is like complaining that a troup of monkeys doesn't walk around on two legs quietly serving us tea in one of Will's swank country clubs.

Posted by: Judge C. Crater | February 22, 2007 1:13 PM | Report abuse

Rich and drindl, I don't have a problem banning ALL corporations (and unions) from contributing - most of the 'bribish' contributions probably come from them anyway.

However, I have a real problem with stopping someone from spending their own money to get out their own message (if they're running).

I expect that even in colonial times, the rich people, who owned the presses and newspapers, probably dominated the political debate. And Congress still was OK with the 1st Amendment.

You must realize, you cannot ban personal spending on political advocacy without raping the first amendment. Now, if you want to propose that Congress try to repeal it or modify it somehow, fine. But there's a strict process to follow, and you cannot legislate around it without making a mockery of the constitution in the first place.

Posted by: JD | February 22, 2007 1:06 PM | Report abuse

Rich K,
Actually the founding fathers did think that only educated wealthy white men should vote. That is why we had to have amendments to stop things like the poll tax.

Posted by: Andy R | February 22, 2007 1:02 PM | Report abuse

This is a no-brainier. Let the candidates accept any amount of money from anybody as long as the disclose the contribution at the time it is made. You can't legislate the problem away. What lawyers can draft, other Lawyers can find loopholes.

Posted by: James E. Fish | February 22, 2007 1:01 PM | Report abuse

This is a no-brainier. Let the candidates accept any amount of money from anybody as long as the disclose the contribution at the time it is made. You can't legislate the problem away. What lawyers can draft, other Lawyers can find loopholes.

Posted by: James E. Fish | February 22, 2007 12:59 PM | Report abuse

'On Presidents' Day, standing in front of George Washington's home, Bush grinned and snarked and smirked, as bombs went off in Baghdad: "I feel right at home here. After all, this is the home of the first George W. I thank President Washington for welcoming us, today. He doesn't look a day over 275 years old."

Aheh-heh. Stop it! You're killing us! Literally!

He also likened America's Revolutionary War to his War on Terror, not quite getting the fact that, in the first war mentioned, Americans were the guerilla fighters battling the occupiers.'

Posted by: Ii think this guy is on drugs. he's getting weirder and weirder | February 22, 2007 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Not a bad idea on taxing the campaigns DS. If this really is going to be a Billion dollar campaign shouldn't the Taxpayers get a cut of that? Think about how much money these consultants, media, and polling people make. We could call it the McCain/Clinton Campaign Finance Tax.

Posted by: Andy R | February 22, 2007 12:55 PM | Report abuse

This is a no-brainier. Let the candidates accept any amount of money from anybody as long as the disclose the contribution at the time it is made. You can't legislate the problem away. What lawyers can draft, other Lawyers can find loopholes.

Posted by: James Fish | February 22, 2007 12:55 PM | Report abuse

I can't prove this (they're all dead), but I find it hard to believe the founders intended that those with a lot of money got more speech than those with little money. If one person-one vote makes sense then one person-one voice makes sense.

So, if a system similar to what I suggested above was implemented, it would have to withstand a challenge based on Buckley v. Valeo and nobody (including self funders) would be allowed to opt-out. With the current Supreme Court would it pass muster? I don't know, but we'll never find out until we try.

Trying to nibble at the edges of the campaign financing mess is like trying to untie the Gordian Knot. It won't work. We need to cut it.

Posted by: rich kolker | February 22, 2007 12:51 PM | Report abuse

'In other words, those who make the most sense, whose voices *ought* to be heard, are the ones who then draw the most contributions, which then allow them to continue to speak?'

if that was what happened. but it isn't necessarily true at all. it most often is just the candidate who promises the most payback to the giver.

thank you for getitng the corporations out of the equation. that would be a huge first step. but for the scenario you suggest to make sense, we need to severely limit contributions by individuals-- and individuals should be US citizens only -- to levels that would allow everyone to have a voice, say $100 each [as Howard Dean collected]. This would result in what you posit -- that the quantity of money collected would be equal to the quantity of POPULAR support. that would be true equality and true free speech for american citizens.

Posted by: drindl | February 22, 2007 12:50 PM | Report abuse

One solution is to do what Maine does. If the any candidate for governor spends over a certain dollar amount then it triggers ALL the candidates to receive something like 10 million in public funding. This means that the Green, Libertarian, Freedom, Women's suffrage, etc all get 10 million to spend.

If we did the same thing in the presdential election the Major parties would to the line because the last thing they want is for people to realize that there are other parties out there. Could you imagine if they gave Larouche 50 mil with one month to spend it. Man those commercials would be great.

Posted by: Andy R | February 22, 2007 12:49 PM | Report abuse

Although I would like to see some kind of campaign financing reform, I don't think we are going to get it in my lifetime. For several years I have been toying with a if you can't beat them, join them approach. Since you can't stop special interest financing, why not tax it. Impose a sliding scale on contributions. Each candidate would be responsible for paying the treasury an increasing percentage of funds received over a minimum threshold which would enable a bare bones campaign. Similarly, impose a tax on expenditures of the so-called independent groups. At least the tax revenues generated by this proposal will do some good and may deter excessive special interest contributions.

Posted by: DS | February 22, 2007 12:42 PM | Report abuse

drindl, so what's your solution, exactly?

You say that the rich (or those who have the rich contributors, as meuphys says) are the ones whose voices get heard. Can I suggest that you might have it backwards? In other words, those who make the most sense, whose voices *ought* to be heard, are the ones who then draw the most contributions, which then allow them to continue to speak?

FWIW, I agree with you about corporations, unions, etc., no contributions should be allowed at all from those organizations, the 1st amendment shouldn't apply in that case.

Posted by: JD | February 22, 2007 12:35 PM | Report abuse

If you are a humble citizen and quit TV, instantly the giant corporations will have much less effect on your own life.

They'll still control a lot that should be yours to control, and that has to be addressed, but at least quitting TV does help a lot.

Posted by: Golgi | February 22, 2007 12:32 PM | Report abuse

meuphys, you have made all the points i was going to. JD, for one thing, the airwaves are public property. sure, we have allowed them to be auctioned off, but that was something that we allowed to happen over time, as increasingly, we have allowed corporations to erode citizens rights and assume more of their own. As someone above said -- a corporation is not a person, and should NOT be alloiwed the same rights.

Lincoln warned that such entities endangered our future more than the Civil War, and he was right. Particularly now that there is scarcely a corporation existant that is not controlled, partially controlled or outright owned by a foreign entity -- very often one whose interests are at odds with our own. Why should their wealth entitle them to drown out the voices of our own citizens?

Because that is exactly what it does. The First Amendment was so important to the Founders because it guaranteed that the most humble citizens' viewpoint could not be silenced by powerful foreign interests, like King Geroge. What we have now is a system which allows exactly that to happen... where the only voices that can afford to break through are the rich and powerful.

Posted by: drindl | February 22, 2007 12:25 PM | Report abuse

Meuphys, you are trying to seperate the in-seperable. The actual free speech, and the means to deliver the free speech, are two sides of the same coin.

For example, if I gave you the right to fly, but specifically banned your access to airplanes, helicopters, etc., then haven't I effectively taken away that same right? Well, you still have your right to fly - I just eliminated the enabling factors.

Posted by: JD | February 22, 2007 12:24 PM | Report abuse

JD, I have a question: if money is speech (or enables it), then wouldn't the converse that no money equals no free speech also be true?

As far as the opt-in/opt-out process, SCOTUS rulings have pretty much required that all such public financing systems be voluntary rather than mandatory, so I will accept that framework. However, the system also has to be one that is realistic enough to work and not punish candidates who stay in the frame of public financing, and I think this can be done as follows:

all federal races-Set a certain number of $5 donations required to qualify for full public funding of campaigns. Any candidate who opts out, but meets or exceeds the initial federal funding must file all additional contributions within 24 hours or be required to return all the money plus pay a fine. When funding exceeds the cap, all candidates who opt in will receive a check equal to that contribution (i.e., a race is initially funded at $5 million, and Candidate A receives a total of $6 million. Candidate B will receive the initial $5 million, and receive the extra $1 million as it comes into Candidate A's campaign and gets reported) in order to level the system.

President-- 200,000 contributions equals full financing (say, $50 million primary, $75 million general), once a candidate opts in for the primary, that candidate will automatically opt in for the general, candidate required to receive identical number of contributions for general for financing

US House-- 5000 contributions equals full financing (say, $2 million)

US Senate-- 5000 contributions per 1 million population, not to exceed 100,000 contributions, equals full financing (say, $2.5 million per 1 million population, not to exceed $50 million)

Of course, the numbers aren't set in stone, but if you have a system like this set up, you will have flexibility and fairness. As someone who made a run for the State Legislature, I'd hate to say it, but money is becoming a big problem at that level as well, and if we aren't careful, politics will be a field where no one who isn't already immensely wealthy or has wealthy friends is automaticall disqualified.

As to the criticism of "forcing corporations at gunpoint" to give up free airtime to candidates, I'd hate to tell you this, but the airwaves already belong to the public anyway. If they want to use our airwaves, they should be willing to give five minutes of free airtime to each candidate for federal office prior to the primary and general election.

Posted by: Steve from WV | February 22, 2007 12:24 PM | Report abuse

Given the enormous amounts of cash necessary to compete for the major party noms, there's no Pollyanna naive enough to believe the the current system can play the role it has in the past. It should probably be retained for to help out good-government, White Suit types and major Third Party candidates in the General. The only guard against the orgy of money we have now is for adversarial buttinskies to let us know who's doing the giving and what shady things they might represent.

Posted by: Iva Norma Stitts | February 22, 2007 12:23 PM | Report abuse

Given the enormous amounts of cash necessary to compete for the major party noms, there's no Pollyanna naive enough to believe the the current system can play the role it has in the past. It should probably be retained for to help out good-government, White Suit types and major Third Party candidates in the General. The only guard against the orgy of money we have now is for adversarial buttinskies to let us know who's doing the giving and what shady things they might represent.

Posted by: Iva Norma Stitts | February 22, 2007 12:22 PM | Report abuse

If more American individuals weaned themselves away from the TV set, candidates wouldn't be able to reach them through TV.

This would be a big incentive to use cheaper media instead. Thus, a whole campaign would be more frugal to run.

Quitting TV is one of the best ways for an American to demonstrate how much she or he loves and supports this great country.

Posted by: Golgi | February 22, 2007 12:21 PM | Report abuse

Given the enormous amounts of cash necessary to compete for the major party noms, there's no Pollyanna naive enough to believe the the current system can play the role it has in the past. It should probably be retained for to help out good-government, White Suit types and major Third Party candidates in the General. The only guard against the orgy of money we have now is for adversarial buttinskies to let us know who's doing the giving and what shady things they might represent.

Posted by: Iva Norma Stitts | February 22, 2007 12:20 PM | Report abuse

"of course, we would have to set a bar for the candidates to clear in order to be considered, like maybe a percentage of popular support."

Meuphys, I'm not sure that would work. To be fair, the percentage would need to be very low. Otherwise, only candidates with a lot of name recognition could run in the primary. (Clinton and Obama, but not Richardson or Dodd.) And that doesn't seem fair.

But if you set the bar too low, then people with practically no support join the race. Right now, minor candidates like Hunter and Gravel don't make much of an impact. They can't compete in spending, so they drop out early and don't even make it to the primary debates. But if anyone could get enough signatures on a petition and then have enough money to compete with the big names, there would be a huge number of candidates in the race. And that's a problem too.

There's also the possibility that lesser-known candidates would try to increase their name recognition in order to get names on their petitions. To do that, they'd start advertising. And to advertise, they'd need to raise money from private sources!

Posted by: Blarg | February 22, 2007 12:18 PM | Report abuse

And Judge Crater, I just read Will's article today (thanks for letting me know it was there).

Frankly, I don't see anything I'd disagree with in today's article. I can remember many instances of him calling out Repubs over the last couple years, especially about cowardice in border security, eliminating earmarks, limiting deficit spending, and the biggie, the new presecription drug entitlement.

Posted by: JD | February 22, 2007 12:17 PM | Report abuse

People will always figure out ways to spend money in politics. Make one restriction, and an underused organization tax code becomes popular - 527s!

It seems to me like we should approach the problem not from the money standpoint, but rather from the time standpoint. In european countries where parliament gets "dissolved" and new elections are announced, election campaigns rarely run longer than 3 months. This limits the amount of money that can be spent, and thus the amount of money that needs to be raised.

This, of course, wouldn't work in the US political system. But why can't we legislate a starting point for (at least) presidential campaigns? "Candidates are only allowed to form exploratory committees and accept campaign contributions after x date, 3 months before the first primary."

Posted by: BDB | February 22, 2007 12:15 PM | Report abuse

"Next we should pass campaign reform laws that say that any natural person who is eligible to vote for a candidate can give as much to that candidate as he or she desires."

I agree, it's an interesting point... it would also be nice if rich folks couldn't max out contribution limits for themselves, and each of their children and nieces and nephews and so on... HOWEVER, would this mean that richer states/districts would have more sell-out candidates than poorer states/districts or something like that? There's probably a more articulate way to say that, but I haven't thought about it much yet, it just seems like there's probably a risk of something along those lines there somewhere.

F&B: Yes. They absolutely should be illegal. They might be already (like, robo -calls made in the middle of the night are illegal, but the penalty is a fine, and that's it, and they absolutely happened in 2006 (in my county), and clearly the penalty didn't mean much to the NRCC...), but if they are, they aren't "illegal enough," if that makes any sense.

And I don't think George Will is full of crap all the time, I think he's very intelligent, I just think he's also very much an elitist.

Posted by: Alison | February 22, 2007 12:15 PM | Report abuse

"No, money doesn't equal speech, but it sure as heck enables it."

-that was my point. my other point was that those with more money are currently able to speak more louder and with better production values than those with less. does this make their speech somehow more worthy of consideration?

"The most important tenet of the Bill of Rights was that you cannot limit political speech. Tell me how preventing someone from spending his/her OWN MONEY doesn't limit political speech?"

-once again, money isn't speech, just enables it, as you just said. what i propose - remember, i acknowledged that it was utopian - was only intended to equally enable the speech of all candidates, in order to allow voters to compare points side by side on an equal basis.

as it stands now, a good idea from a candidate whose supporters are less well-funded will be lost in a sea of red white and blue square-jawed announcers who offer no coherent arguments other than " Wrong on Wrong for America."

the failure to prevent a candidate's speech from being drowned out and / or slandered by an attack he / she does not have the money to rebut is a violation of the constitutional rights of that candidate.

i cannot interpret a candidate's resistance to equal public funding as other than a lack of confidence in the ability of his / her message to win on its own merits.

Posted by: meuphys | February 22, 2007 12:08 PM | Report abuse

Sorry Meuphys, but your plan is blatantly unconstitutional in my opinion. No, money doesn't equal speech, but it sure as heck enables it. The most important tenet of the Bill of Rights was that you cannot limit political speech. Tell me how preventing someone from spending his/her OWN MONEY doesn't limit political speech?

Posted by: JD | February 22, 2007 11:54 AM | Report abuse

The Public Funding debate needs to continue and the issue needs to include Congressional Races in addition to the Presidential Election.

A new group, Americans For Campaign Reform, (www.justsixdollars.org) has interesting proposals for their bipartisan effort to implement a well designed public funding option. There supportors include former Senators Warren Rudman (R), Alan Simpson (R), Bill Bradley, (D), and Bob Kerrey (D)

Posted by: Bob Spiegelman | February 22, 2007 11:54 AM | Report abuse

Federal financing should go to better informing the voters rather than giving federal funding to individual candidates. Toward that end federal funding should go for grants for sponsoring televised debates and other activities which better inform voters on all the candidates in a non-partisan manner.

The general idea is to get away from depending solely on the media, candidates campaigns or outside interest groups to inform the voters. None of those activities are prevented, however the objective should be to use federal financing to help the voters decide on the best candidate - irregardless of how well-funded or under-funded that candidate might be.

Posted by: Chris Baker | February 22, 2007 11:51 AM | Report abuse

The Public Funding debate needs to continue and the issue needs to include Congressional Races in addition to the Presidential Election.

A new group, Americans For Campaign Reform, (www.justsixdollars.org) has interesting proposals for their bipartisan effort to implement a well designed public funding option. There supportors include former Senators Warren Rudman (R), Alan Simpson (R), Bill Bradley, (D), and Bob Kerrey (D)

Posted by: Bob Spiegelman | February 22, 2007 11:48 AM | Report abuse

Limit political donations to candidates, PAC, 527, to individuals - no unions or corporations.

Extend Public Campaign Financing to the House and Senate and raise the amount to realistic levels.

Enact non-partisan Redistricting reform.

Posted by: Paul Silver | February 22, 2007 11:48 AM | Report abuse

The Public Funding debate needs to continue and the issue needs to include Congressional Races in addition to the Presidential Election.

A new group, Americans For Campaign Reform, (www.justsixdollars.org) has interesting proposals for their bipartisan effort to implement a well designed public funding option. There supportors include former Senators Warren Rudman (R), Alan Simpson (R), Bill Bradley, (D), and Bob Kerrey (D)

Posted by: Bob Spiegelman | February 22, 2007 11:47 AM | Report abuse

JD: sometimes Will has a good idea, sometimes he bends over backwards to use $10 words when $1 words work just as well. There's a fine line between being erudite and appearing to be overly defensive of your logic. Will typically crosses that line about two-thirds of the way through his column.

Today's column accuses D's in Congress of lacking courage. Odd, in my dictionary the words 'gutless,' 'spineless', 'cowardly' and 'craven' are accompanied by a picture of the 109th Congress, specifically the Republican-controlled US House of Representatives. Will's description of "lacking courage" is wildly selective and fails to consider that nadir of congressional courage.

Posted by: Judge C. Crater | February 22, 2007 11:46 AM | Report abuse

Limit political donations to candidates, PAC, 527, to individuals - no unions or corporations.

Extend Public Campaign Financing to the House and Senate and raise the amount to realistic levels.

Enact non-partisan Redistricting reform.

Posted by: Paul Silver | February 22, 2007 11:44 AM | Report abuse

jd - in re: "But what if a zillionaire says he wants to add to it by spending his/her own money? Should Bloomberg, Heinz, Mark Warner, or others be allowed to self-finance? If not, how do you get around the 1st Amendment?"

i disagree with your premise that funding equals speech. funding just makes speech louder and harder to debate... and debate is how democracy works. well-funded speech is not more worthy of consideration than speech whose backers are not wealthy.

everyone should have the right to have their opinions and ideas on the table, which means to me complete public funding of campaigns.

of course, we would have to set a bar for the candidates to clear in order to be considered, like maybe a percentage of popular support.

and then maybe free airtime and frequent televised debate on public broadcasting... and have no audiences for the debates, so they would have no one to play to for applause and would be forced to prove their points to a skeptical moderator who had roots in neither party.

i recognize that these ideas are utopian non-starters, but if we don't try to accomplish something, rather than just tweaking the way things are, there will never be any meaningful change.

Posted by: meuphys | February 22, 2007 11:40 AM | Report abuse

>>>full disclosure of who pays for ANY ad needs to happen yesterday

Agreed. And while we're at it, how about factually UNTRUE ads are illegal.

Posted by: F&B | February 22, 2007 11:35 AM | Report abuse

"Next we should pass campaign reform laws that say that any natural person who is eligible to vote for a candidate can give as much to that candidate as he or she desires."

Interesting point, Pat. While I don't agree that people should be able to donate as much as they want, I like your idea that you should only be able to donate if you're able to vote. That would stop out-of-state donors from unfairly influencing the elections. I mean, I cared about the Connecticut senate race, but that doesn't mean I should have been allowed to take part in it, because I don't live there.

Posted by: Blarg | February 22, 2007 11:32 AM | Report abuse

Sorry Judge if you don't like Will. I happen to think he makes a lot of sense, and virtually all his arguments are defensible, not emotional rants.

Chris C, one other comment I made but didn't take (WTF is going on with WaPo's site for the last couple weeks anyway..):

If you force public financing, including coersion of free airtime at gunpoint, then what about the rich individual who wants to spend his/her own money? Are you going to prevent Bloomberg, Heinz, Mark Warner, etc., from spending their own bucks to get their message out? Isn't that contrary to the Founding Fathers' version of restricting free speech, especially political speech? How do you get around the 1st amendment then - or do you just ignore it, much like the 2nd amendment has been ignored?

Posted by: JD | February 22, 2007 11:32 AM | Report abuse

The system that we have is ok, IMO except there are too many loopholes.
First off the unlimited contirbutions to 527 groups has to be stoped. Also full disclosure of who pays for ANY ad needs to happen yesterday. If you want to have freedom of speach that is what our country was built on, but I also should have the right to know who is speaking to me.

Second, is I think we have to outlaw 'bundling'. It gives the bundler way too much influence on the system, and I bet if you really dug deep there is a kick back system that these people use to 'reward' their bundlees (ie golf trips, wine etc).

Lastly, we need to lower the amount someone can donate to 100 bucks. Make these people work for their donations.

Posted by: Andy R | February 22, 2007 11:24 AM | Report abuse

The whole campaign system is broken. Campaign reform should recognize that entites other than natural persons don't have all the rights of natural persons and therefore can't give money to candidates at any level although they certainly should be able to espouse and communicate the beliefs of their members/organizations.
Next we should pass campaign reform laws that say that any natural person who is eligible to vote for a candidate can give as much to that candidate as he or she desires. With full disclosure, candidates would have to decide what level of dollars they could comfortably accept from any one person least they offend other constituents by appearing to have been bought.

Posted by: Pat | February 22, 2007 11:21 AM | Report abuse

Mike Gravel wants the US to be a Direct Democracy. Horrible idea. Also, I went to the DNC Winter Conference and he was sitting alone at a table so I went to say hi, because I'm thinking "oh, crazy 3rd tier candidate, probably a good guy, this could be neat" and he was very very strange. I asked why he was running for president, and he said because he wanted to put me in charge of legislating. And I said, "ah, ok, how?" and he said "well, do you think that politicians in Washington should make decisions about your body?" Not going to lie, I felt a little uncomfortable. I said "well, no." and he said "Exactly..." and a couple other things, and then there was just a horribly awkward silence.

Now I'm not a politician, but if I were, and I were at the DNC Winter Conference in DC and someone said "Hi! I'm Alison! Why are you running for president?" I don't think I'd EVER run out of things to tell her. Just saying.

Posted by: Alison | February 22, 2007 11:19 AM | Report abuse

I'm screaming with you, Judge, on the idea of an 8-year term...

Posted by: Alison | February 22, 2007 11:14 AM | Report abuse

jojo, i am curious about mike gravel. all i know is that he is running... i have not heard anything about positions he supports, his biography etc. what do you know about him? liberal, conservative, what?

Posted by: meuphys | February 22, 2007 11:13 AM | Report abuse

"George Will is a pompous elitist of the worst kind"

Today's column providing another wildly hypocritical example.

Posted by: Judge C. Crater | February 22, 2007 11:09 AM | Report abuse

it's funny that chris characterizes the g.o.p. candidate as being forced to withdraw from the public funding system due to those high-spending democrats.

also, has there been a ruling on obama's question in re: funding? chris' saying "foregoing the acceptance of public funds for either contest" would seem to indicate that there has.

Posted by: meuphys | February 22, 2007 11:07 AM | Report abuse

I agree with Blarg, and I'd add that there should be severe restrictions on contributions from any non-individuals: any companies, corporations, PACs, unions, etc. Any entity that isn't an individual should be SEVERELY limited. No one would argue that the current system is working, especially the McCain-Feingold joke, but no public financing or controls at all is not a good idea. I wish there were a way that candidates wouldn't have an option of not accepting public financing, y'know, without violating the constitution...

Maybe if there were severe limits on all contributions -- even individuals -- and candidates couldn't opt out, but there were no restrictions on what you can spend on yourself, maybe that would work. Honestly, look how far Ross Perot got. I don't think we really have to worry about too many billionaires becoming Presidents and so on. I think most of them don't want to be elected officials anyway. Can you blame them??

And even though I think George Will is a pompous elitist of the worst kind, I think JD's absolutely right; earmark reform would do wonders for our campaign finance issues.

Posted by: Alison | February 22, 2007 10:59 AM | Report abuse

"Why not just make the presidency a single term of 8 years?"

Noooooooooooooooooo! (insert mental image of Munch's "The Scream" here)

Posted by: Judge C. Crater | February 22, 2007 10:43 AM | Report abuse

CC: I notice you put McCain as the GOP frontrunner and from most polls I've seen Rudy is ahead in most and a lot of them by double digets. The thing I find that has stood out for McCain is the way the Bush family has been cuddling up to other candidates. Some of us know a lot of the slezzy stuff out there and are only waiting to see if and when it may become necessary to use it, and at this time I doubt it will be used. Should the polling change in favor of McCain, hang on to you seat folks, it will be rough, and I do mean rough.

Posted by: lylepink | February 22, 2007 10:36 AM | Report abuse

Campaign finance reform is a must. Unrestricted fundraising has negative effects on the policy process, leading to less effective government. The amount of money candidates are permitted to spend should be capped.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 22, 2007 10:22 AM | Report abuse

Get real. I'd be as happy as anyone if our system of elections relied on boring, placid, apolitical public funding and was not beholden to PAC's or any of the other myriad methods developed specifically to get around any rule (pick one off this page) that we might hope or wish for. If you look around, however, there is no hue and cry, there is no outrage, there is no momentum for campaign finance reform. Without public resentment fueling such a change, no one in their right mind is going to take a quixotic run to limit the highly fungible definition of free speech that consistently frustrates our best intentions.

In summary, no outrage, no rule change. Are any of the current crop of presidential candidates campaigning on this issue? No. Apparently the focus groups don't 'focus' on this issue. Find something else to debate.

The best example of the type of political 'push' that is needed was/is cleaning up Congress. As we've all seen, those new rules were rendered toothless the day after they were passed.

Posted by: Judge C. Crater | February 22, 2007 10:21 AM | Report abuse

Campaign finance reform is a must. Unrestricted fundraising has negative effects on the policy process, leading to less effective government. The amount of money candidates are permitted to spend should be capped.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 22, 2007 10:21 AM | Report abuse

I think a lot of peoples' first instinct is to say that campaign funding should be entirely public. But I disagree.

There's an advantage to private fundraising. It shows that a candidate has some significant amount of support. In the 2004 primary, Howard Dean collected huge amounts of money, mostly in small contributions from individuals. That meant that a large number of people believed in his message and wanted him to succeed. And that early success in fundraising elevated him to the top of the Democratic heap, at least for a while.

Elections aren't like roads. I-95 isn't competing with Route 66, and nobody has a strong preference for one road over another. But if there's a candidate who I really like, I want to be able to help him out by sending some money. Money isn't a sole indicator of a candidate's viability, but a candidate who can't connect with enough people to raise a decent war chest probably isn't a very good candidate.

I want to see more public funding. I'd like a system where each candidate was issued the same amount of public funding. Then they could raise more money through small donations (similar to the current $2000 cap) by individuals. That would put everyone at the same starting point but also allow people to support their preferred candidates.

Posted by: Blarg | February 22, 2007 10:20 AM | Report abuse

So Rich, you seem to suggest that the government will finance (or coerce private companies to give for free, in the case of airtime) campaigns. OK, you can outlaw all political giving, I don't see anything wrong with that.

But what if a zillionaire says he wants to add to it by spending his/her own money? Should Bloomberg, Heinz, Mark Warner, or others be allowed to self-finance? If not, how do you get around the 1st Amendment? Clearly, the Founding Fathers thought that limiting political speech in any way was about the worst thing you could do.

Posted by: JD | February 22, 2007 10:19 AM | Report abuse

The real risk is that the candidate who wins the presidency will have four years over which he or she can raise half a billion dollars or more to deter serious candidates from challenging them. Why not just make the presidency a single term of 8 years?

Posted by: Vox Populi | February 22, 2007 10:19 AM | Report abuse

"Two roads diverged in the woods, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference." -- Robert Frost

We pay taxes, federal, state and local, to build good roads. We like good roads, smooth, without potholes, with sidewalks where appropriate. They take us to school and business, to shopping and to our neighbors. We know all the side effects of too many roads, and too few roads, but nobody wants bad roads.

Aren't good, fair elections as important to us as good roads? If so, isn't it past time we considered paying for them the same way we pay for roads?

Under the current system, with the exception of parts of a Presidential campaign, a candidate and campaign has to raise every dollar of campaign funds him or herself. Months will be spent not meeting a single voter, knocking on a single door, discussing a single issue, giving a single speech. Instead, they are meeting with friends, business associates, local businesses, unions, PACs and special interest groups begging for money.

We have created a system where candidates for election are more beholden to the contributors than to the voters. The results are neither good elections nor good government.

Not good elections, because candidates are forced to spend time they should be spending communicating with voters about their issues and concerns instead fundraising.

Not good government, because once elected, the cycle starts all over again, and instead of concentrating on how best to govern, how to provide education, transportation, encourage job creation and make this the kind of place in which we all want to live, the successful legislator is right back on the phone raising money for the next campaign.

Surveys have shown most elected officials don't like the current system, the businesses, unions and individuals asked to donate don't like the current system. Yet it persists.

We can do better.

It's time to diverge and take the road less traveled by. It's time to institute public campaign financing, stop the begging, and make the voters once again the most important people for someone running for public office.

A candidate for office, upon meeting a qualification standard by gathering signatures on petitions or gaining the nomination of his or her party, would receive campaign funds based on the population of his district, state or in the case of the Presidency the nation. This amount should initially be set at a percentage of the average cost of campaigns for that office (since the cost of fundraising is eliminated) and indexed for inflation.

There are other changes that could be made to the system that would be very helpful by eliminating some of the costs of campaigning. A limited "franking" privilege for candidates for office, providing low or no cost mailing for a fixed number of pieces of campaign literature, could tremendously lower the cost of most local campaigns, which depend on direct mail. Mandated air time on television, radio and cable as appropriate could be made a requirement for license renewal by the FCC, or contract renewal for local cable companies.

There is a natural suspicion among Americans toward any proposal that might increase the taxes we pay. We demand value for the money we provide for governance. This is right and proper and a requirement for the maintenance of good government.
So some may say, "Why pay new taxes for something that people seem willing to pay for themselves?" The answer is simple, "Because if we want the people's representatives to truly represent all the people, then all the people should provide the means for their selection."

It is past time that we once again make the voters the most important people in the lives of our representatives. Government "of the people, by the people and for the people" demands nothing less.

Posted by: rich kolker | February 22, 2007 9:59 AM | Report abuse

I might have a different line than some others. Michigan politics pre-Watergate was dominated by the automakers. Robert Griffin was known as the Senator from General Motors. I'm not certain that caps are a good thing at all, because the politicians are then beholden to multiple interests. Public disclosure of donations, with no caps might be a more effective answer.

For example, if Exxon donated $15 million to one Texas Senate Candidate, it would be known to all that he was in Exxon's pocket, but he also might not have to go anywhere else for funding, and so his judgment on issues that didn't effect Exxon would be free of encumbrances.

I know this is a radical idea, and that I'll take a pounding for it, but really, we already have a system in which our elected representatives are for sale @ $2000 a pop, why not at least make them expensive courtesans?

Posted by: Steve | February 22, 2007 9:59 AM | Report abuse

Che, does your mom know that you're using her computer down in the basement? We're begging you...find a new hobby other than posting o/t drivel...

Chris, the problem with hardcore spending restrictions are that they are almost certainly unconstitutional (current Supreme Court rulings notwithstanding). I like George Will's idea - if you want to take the money out of politics, you should take the politics out of money. That is, get rid of all earmarks and other opportunities for 'political spending', favorable tax treatment, or other ways to appropriate based on who paid you off last.

Posted by: JD | February 22, 2007 9:52 AM | Report abuse

cheney goes to thank howard persnally for trashing and sliming Dems...

'SYDNEY, Australia -- Police clashed Thursday with demonstrators protesting the visit of Vice President Dick Cheney hours before he arrived in Australia to thank one of Washington's staunchest supporters in the increasingly unpopular war in Iraq.

Cheney arrived late Thursday night and his motorcade went immediately to his downtown hotel.

Iraq and other security issues are expected to dominate Cheney's visit and talks with Prime Minister John Howard, who is under increasing political pressure to set an exit strategy for Australia's 1,400 troops in and around Iraq.

The focus intensified Wednesday when the British government and other allies announced plans to start withdrawing forces from Iraq, leaving Howard to explain why he is not doing the same.

Opinion polls show the Iraq conflict is deeply unpopular among Australians.'

everyone else is leaving...

Posted by: what the US press won't tell lyou... | February 22, 2007 9:40 AM | Report abuse

Please take action to prevent another war!!!

For uncensored news please bookmark:

otherside123.blogspot.com
www.wsws.org
www.onlinejournal.com
www.takingaimradio.net

Congress is the Decider letter delivery

The debate over the war in Iraq is at a critical moment. Over the next few weeks Congress will be deciding how far they'll go to stop President Bush's plan to escalate the war. It's clear that the public is against escalation, but some in Congress think that they can get away with ignoring the issue.

Together, we're going to make it clear to Congress that they must stop Bush's plan. On Thursday, February 22nd, MoveOn members are going to get together outside of our representative's offices an tell them: Congress is the Decider. You can stop the escalation and end this war.

We'll hand deliver thousands of letters to representatives across the country, invite the press and hear from moving speakers. Congress is going to be on break, so our actions will have even more impact.

It's really important for our representatives to see the faces of Americans in their district who want to stop the escalation and end this war.
Host your own Congress is the Decider letter delivery or sign up for an event near you.

For more information please go to:

http://pol.moveon.org/event/events/index.html?action_id=76

Posted by: che | February 22, 2007 9:35 AM | Report abuse

DOHA, Qatar -- "Are you on the road, or in the ditch?" Back when I covered labor negotiations 30 years ago, that was the question reporters would ask to get a sense of how contract talks were going. The phrase came back to me last weekend as I listened to a series of relentlessly negative presentations at a conference here on America's relations with the Muslim world.

We are in the ditch in the Middle East. As bad as you think it is watching TV, it's worse. It's not just Iraq but the whole pattern of America's dealings with the Arab world. People aren't just angry at America -- they've been that way to varying degrees since I first came here 27 years ago. What's worse is that they're giving up on us -- on our ability to make good decisions, to solve problems, to play the role of honest broker.''

Posted by: ignatius very good today | February 22, 2007 9:33 AM | Report abuse

First of all, how about requiring ALL networks to list ALL candidates? CBS News seems like the only TV outlet that shows Mike Gravel's picture with the rest.

Posted by: jojo | February 22, 2007 9:32 AM | Report abuse

Wesley Clark working with Iraqi vets to stop war with Iran:

'All Americans want to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons and interfering on the ground inside Iraq. Yet President Bush's saber rattling gives the US little additional leverage to engage and dissuade Iran, and, more than likely, simply accelerates a dangerous slide into war. The United States can do better than this.

Whatever the pace of Iran's nuclear efforts, in the give and take of the Administration's rhetoric and accusations, we are approaching the last moments to head off looming conflict.'

http://stopiranwar.com/

Posted by: lark | February 22, 2007 9:29 AM | Report abuse

'It's worth noting that by saying McCain apologized to him, Cheney rather artfully put McCain in a box. Either McCain could acknowledge that he apologized, and make it look as if his original criticism of Cheney wasn't straight talk, or defiantly deny that he'd apologized, which would put him in the position of calling the Vice President a liar, which would keep the story going in the media and risk alienating whatever supporters Cheney has left among the GOP's conservative base McCain's been courting.

Whatever actually happened, McCain's difficulty here reflects the larger challenge he faces in the delicate dance of distancing himself from the Bush administration's disastrous conduct of the war while trying to woo the conservatives who still support it.

Posted by: Cheney screws McCain | February 22, 2007 9:26 AM | Report abuse

No partisan name-calling? C'mon, CC what fun is it then?

I think the system of campaign financing is responsible for a great deal of the endemic corruption in our system. People [or rather, global corporations] who want to write laws and influence policy contribute the vast amounts that are needed to run for any public office. The candidate is then beholden, because they will need this entity's money to run again. There is no way this is not a corrupting inflluence.

Radio and TV stations should be mandated to donate a certian amount of time to each VIABLE canddiate, and newspapers should grant them editorial space. There should also be live online forums -- perhaps where people can ask questions. We should all be allowed to face them personally, not just people from New Hampshire.

In this way, we could see them respond in real time -- not just be deluged andoverwhelmed and disgusted by the vicious canned attacks that dominate every cycle.

The first amendment was never meant to guarantee that foreign entities could outright buy US public servants.

Posted by: drindl | February 22, 2007 9:20 AM | Report abuse

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