Kick the big money people out of politics

I sent this off to all the campaigns a few months ago, and never heard a word back, though a guy running for Congress in Colorado had some words of praise for me. Jared Polis,I hope you’re doing well back there!

Anyway, I keep thinking I posted this before but a high and low search couldn’t find it. I’m only posting it because of the courageous step Barack Obama took today:

Most people are pretty upset by the latest money scandal in Washington. (This was written a while back) We don’t much like the idea that our Congressmen and Senators are for sale to the highest bidders, because what it really means is that our wishes and votes are pretty much meaningless. It’s a government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich.

Isn’t it time to take back control? Actually, it’s past time. Remember back in 1994 when the Republicans promised a Contract with America; they pledged to clean up the Democrats’ mess in Washington. Well that didn’t work out very well, did it? Those Congressmen came to Washington to do good for the country and ended up doing really well for themselves.

I believe it’s time for some “Biblical action.” Jesus drove the moneylenders out of the temple; let’s drive the money vendors out of the Capitol. Here’s how we can do it.

Make it illegal for any individual, corporation, foreign entity, or whatever else you can think of, to give money directly to or spend money on behalf of any political party, any politician, any candidate for political office, or any political action committee. Instead, let’s require that political activity be funded by verifiable donations through a clearinghouse which would prevent the recipients from knowing the names of the donors.

How would this work, you wonder. Here’s one possible way. Every taxpayer would be allowed to designate a certain amount of his taxes to be paid directly into the coffers of a designated political party (or parties if he wants to split it up.) For talking purposes let’s say $30. In 2004 the Federal Election Commission sent about $110 million to the parties from the existing checkoff system, which allows each taxpayer to send $3 in tax revenues to political parties. My proposal would put perhaps $1.5 billion in tax money into the coffers of the parties.

In addition to the checkoff, though, taxpayers could opt to pay an additional amount to a party by authorizing the Government to decrease their deductions or to increase their taxes due. For discussion purposes, let’s use the number $150 per taxpayer. If ten percent of the taxpayers who checked off the current $3 did this, that would be an additional perhaps $2 billion for the parties.

The parties receiving the money would have to use this for all Congressional and Senatorial campaigns in addition to campaigns for the Presidency. Funding for political parties at the state and local level would be dependent upon similar plans, probably at the state level, though states could opt not to use any tax money for supporting the political parties. Leave it up to them. The national political parties could decide how to allocate their funds though, providing money for state and local offices at their discretion. But state-level money would have to be spent in the state. The Social Party in California could not take any money from the state of California and spend it on candidates for national office. Only for state and local office.

But no party that participated in this program would be allowed to raise money from any other source, whether it’s donations, dues, bake sales, bribes, selling t-shirts or bumper stickers, or any other source. Candidates could not spend their own money for campaigning.

A party would not have to participate; but their opponent(s) would quickly take the higher moral ground and point out that there is no guarantee that the nonparticipating party is completely above-board.

What about the smaller parties? The IRS would provide each taxpayer with a checkoff form. The form would have the names of those parties which had:

a. a candidate for President on the ballot in at least half of the states,

b. candidates for Congress on the ballot in at least half of the states,

c. had on the rolls in at least half of the states at least five percent of all affiliated voters in those respective states,
or d. such other criteria the Congress decides on.

In addition, a taxpayer could write in the name of any party which had registered with the Federal Election Commission, provided it met certain very minimal criteria.

Penalties for violation would be draconian (at least in comparison to what they are now.) A candidate, politician, incumbent, or any other person who receives money in violation of this set of laws would receive a minimum jail sentence of 10 years, with no suspended sentence, no parole, a minimum fine of $10 million, and would be debarred from seeking office for life.

A corporation convicted of spending money on behalf of a political party, candidate, or incumbent, would be immediately dissolved, with all net assets going to the government (the stockholders would not get one nickel!), and the persons responsible for the violation would face penalties equal to those faced by the recipients.

A political party which violated the provisions of this law would be debarred from taking money from the campaign financing pool, and any money otherwise due it would be divided pro rata among the other parties. In addition, the convicted political party would be debarred from fielding candidates for a period of at least ten years.

Could organizations and corporations still lobby.? Sure. They just couldn’t give money to politicians or spend money on their behalf. Golf trips to Scotland? Not on my watch. Plane trips to ski resorts for the Senator and his girl friend. I don’t think so. A thousand dollar dinner for Congressman Schmo to convince him to vote for the pig poop lobby? Nope. But if someone wants to hire a lobbyist to go around to various Congressmen to try to convince them that voting for a National Home for Unwed Fathers is a good idea, have at it. But don’t spend a nickel on a campaign contribution or buying the Congressman a hotdog, because if you do you are gonna go to jail, right next to the Congressman’s cell.

Harsh? You darned betcha. But fair to the voters? I think so. Can we do it? If all of the voters got together we could move mountains. Certainly we could do it if we all got behind serious reform.