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Campaign Finance Reform: A Modest Proposal

With the news that one of Hillary Clinton's biggest fundraisers is a criminal fugitive, I've been thinking about campaign finance reform. And I think I have a fairly simple set of ideas that ought to clean up politics a bit.

  • No limits to political contributions from individuals, corporations or organizations.
  • All contributions to a political campaign must be posted to a public web site within 72 hours of processing.
  • Once every two weeks, candidates must produce a NASCAR-style jacket bearing the names (for individuals) or logos (for organizations) of their top ten contributors. These jackets must be worn by the candidate and designated spokesmen at any and all campaign-related events.
  • Any and all attempts to conceal the source of a contribution, through "gifts" and "loans" to third parties, will be considered a form of election fraud and subject to serious criminal penalties.

The basic concept uniting all these is simple: "sunlight is the best disinfectant." No games, no tricks, no shenanigans will be tolerated, and everything will be as open and aboveboard as possible.

If some group wants to "buy" a candidate, and the candidate is willing, fine. But everyone will know precisely who is doing it, and can choose whether or not to let that influence their vote.

The biggest drawbacks to my plan (which is by no means original, but a synthesis of various and sundry ideas I have collected over the years) is that it's too simple, too honest, and too transparent. It would require the cooperation of far too many politicians who are dependent on the current Byzantine rules and regulations to maintain their grip on power.

But it's a fun little fantasy.

Update: While I was writing this, my colleague Jim Addison posted a piece linking to six stories over at Wizbang Politics -- and three of them are precisely the sort of stories that support my argument. Kevin, I want to formally complain about people stealing my ideas -- Jim, DJ Drummond, and cirby have all apparently tapped into my computer, and I'm getting sick of it.


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Comments (26)

Your idea needs one small t... (Below threshold)
Brian The Adequate Author Profile Page:

Your idea needs one small tweak.

The biggest downside is enforcement (ie how would you know that everything was reported)

Solution? Instead of a 72 hour time limit, make the rule that the donation must be disclosed before the money is spent. All of the federal campaigns could be subject to draconian accounting rules and real penalties (say 5 years in prison for the accountant and the candidate) if the books don't balance.

I love the Nascar idea (though I think Heywood Banks had it first) cause I know they are all bought, I just want to know who owns them.(I know I am ripping this off, but I don't remember where I heard it first).

I've got another proposal:<... (Below threshold)

I've got another proposal:

1. You can give as much as you want.

2. All gifts are anonymous. They go through a trust fund administered by a neutral party (major accounting firm?).

3. Any attempt by the candidate to find out who gave the money, is considered soliciting a bribe.
Any attempt to communicate to the candidate that you made a contribution is considered giving a bribe.

You have less influence if you can't prove you gave money to the campaign.

Any and all attemp... (Below threshold)
Any and all attempts to conceal the source of a contribution, through "gifts" and "loans" to third parties, will be considered a form of election fraud and subject to serious criminal penalties.

This is important. The hint of fraud has to be found, investigated and punished fast. Within days. It's taken the FEC three years to determine the Soros funded group ACT had illegal contributions. Fine lot of good that did during the 2004 campaign.

Instead of the NASCAR type jacket, they could just be required to have a big poster at all their apperances listing their top donors. Also, they could be required to have it prominently displayed on their campaign website and on the page that lists their donors.

My idea is that only individuals can contribute to a campaign. No companies or businesses. People vote, corporations and businesses don't.

My wish is that when money is given to a candidate, it's for that candidate only. They can't go spreadin' it around to other candidates. It has to be for that candidate's campaign only.

If I want to donate money to get spread around, I'll give to the RNC, NRSC or NRCC.

It really irks me when I give a candidate money and they have too much so they give some of it to another candidate that I may not even like.

Maybe?1)Campaigns ... (Below threshold)
Robert the Original:


1)Campaigns may not hire or otherwise employ the relative of any candidate.
2)Likewise, relatives of any candidate are prohibited from working in any firm or organization with a lobby activity.
3)After a campaign is over, any excess funds must be returned to the contributors on a pro-rata basis.
4)No contributions may be accepted unless they are made in the year prior to the target election date.
5)All contributors are expressly excluded from the benefit of any government spending program or earmark, under penalty of jail.

Sorry, John, I want the jac... (Below threshold)

Sorry, John, I want the jacket. I want the candidate to have to personally take ownership of their donors, to be inseparably tied to those who are paying their bills. Posters can be shuffled around, blocked, turned, cropped out, or otherwise obscured. But when the candidate literally has their backers' names all over them, it's harder to conceal.

The web site, though... I like that. How about a page listing all their donors, descending by amount, linked top and center from their home page? We can even specify the size of the link.


All gifts are anon... (Below threshold)
All gifts are anonymous. They go through a trust fund administered by a neutral party (major accounting firm?).

I like that idea. I'm sure there's some weakness in it, but it's something to think about and work out.

The election commission wil... (Below threshold)
Robert the Original:

The election commission will review all contributions within 30 days. For any contribution found to be illegal, the candidate must pay a fine of double the contributed amount, out of personal funds.

JT - I agree with all with ... (Below threshold)

JT - I agree with all with a couple of quibbles.

In addition to donations being published on a website they should be entered into the Congressional record. Failure to post the notices on time or inaccurate ones should be penalized at a rate 5-10 times the amount found in non-compliance.

A restriction should be placed on donations for Senate or House races to the State the candidate will represent.

Not to be pickin' on her (not really) Hillary shouldn't be suckin' Hollywood's teat during a race for a NY Senatorial office.

"3. Any attempt by the cand... (Below threshold)

"3. Any attempt by the candidate to find out who gave the money, is considered soliciting a bribe.
Any attempt to communicate to the candidate that you made a contribution is considered giving a bribe."

Yeah, right. As if a big labor union is going to blow the whistle on the candidate that they want to donate to, or visa versa. I mean, we all know how honest and trustworthy politicians are...

Here's another one for you<... (Below threshold)

Here's another one for you

The only individuals (Not PACS, unions, institutions of any kind) who can contribute to a candidate is one who can legally vote for said candidate. Period. End of sentence.

Said contributions to be made public within 72 hours

"Yeah, right. As if a big l... (Below threshold)

"Yeah, right. As if a big labor union is going to blow the whistle on the candidate that they want to donate to, or visa versa. I mean, we all know how honest and trustworthy politicians are..."

That may be true, but there is no way for the campaign to verify the truth. Every union could make the same claim whether it was true or not.

If you add in hlust's proposal, that problem is reduced.

I also feel that wholesale election fraud, should be punished at least as heavily as drug dealing. I'm not talking about the individual small time stuff, I'm talking about the ballot box stuffing level. Five votes or less, misdemeanor, more than that big time crime.

I agree, Rance; and this is... (Below threshold)

I agree, Rance; and this is what the US Attorney faux scandal was about. The Dems are as hooked on election fraud as the worst drug addict. Election fraud leads to societal collape; drug addiction to personal collapse. Election fraud is worse.

I like the idea and was act... (Below threshold)

I like the idea and was actually having a similar thought the other day. Since's it so easy to create and maintain databases online, every candidate and elected official should have to do this. Restrictions lead to all kinds of attempts to sneak around the law. This would, in theory, lead to one type of sneakiness - trying to spend money without reporting you received it. Following accounting rules should help stop that.

Also - it's seems logical that any sort of donation - cash, trips, gifts, etc. - are fully disclosed.

Jay, I always like your col... (Below threshold)

Jay, I always like your columns, however limits on campaign donations are an important limit to prevent the Anerican government from sliding into a complete Russian-style oligarchy where only a few strong interests basicly control a government. That has been the failing of the Bush Administration where oil and defense contractor interests have been so strong so as to dictate foreign policy such as the Iraq War. And just look at the results of that.

Yeah, look Paul. We won. ... (Below threshold)

Yeah, look Paul. We won. So did the Iraqis.

Yeah, look Paul. W... (Below threshold)
Yeah, look Paul. We won. So did the Iraqis.

Yes Paul, those pesky defense contractors supplying all those high paying jobs to protect this nation against others. Let's just let China supply our defense needs, provided the pay a kick-back to the Clintons.

/sarc off

It's really quite simple:</... (Below threshold)

It's really quite simple:

No limits.
No cash.
Full disclosure.

The idea that the oil compa... (Below threshold)

The idea that the oil companies are dictating foreign policy is just a silly fantasy. The oil companies would have been happy with an end to sanctions on Iraq and continued dealings with Saddam.

We need a vaccine against BDS.

"where oil and defense c... (Below threshold)
P. Bunyan:

"where oil and defense contractor interests have been so strong so as to dictate foreign policy such as the Iraq War"

I looked up "intellectual invalid" in the dictionary the other day and sure enough, there was a picture of Paul Hooson.

But Al Qaeda does appreciate Paul's disingenuous propaganda on their bahalf.

P. Bunyan, 43 members of th... (Below threshold)

P. Bunyan, 43 members of the January 2001 Bush Administration had ties to the oil industry as either executives, analysts or major stockholders. And 33 had ties to defense contractors. In addition, the Secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force were all appointed defense contractor executives and not military men. Can you explain how this does not prove heavy oil or defense contractor interests impacting policy such as Iraq in this administration?

Only someone evil enough to... (Below threshold)
P. Bunyan:

Only someone evil enough to be a democrat would be capable of starting a war just to make his buddies rich.

George Bush is not evil enough to be a democrat, thus proving that the pro-Al Qaeda propaganda you post is nothing more than a steaming pile of bullshit.


100% of the Clinton administration had "ties" to terrorist organizations, terrorist-suporting organizations, and/or those who profited from genocide. Any potential future Clinton administrations would be the same.

The three most important it... (Below threshold)

The three most important items of campaign finance reform are (to paraphrase the real estate industry) transparency, transparency, transparency. And the transparency means giving the public ALL the relevant information about donors, as dc64 points out, through an open internet data base. The voter is thus able to base his or her vote on what the profile of contributors says about the candidates likely policy decisions.

The "Army of Davids" on the internet would then go to work to find out who the contributors are, particularly work, investment and business ownership connections. Therefore, having donations made "anonymous" goes exactly in the wrong direction, even though it's certainly a better idea than what we have now. This important supplementary information would be placed on well publicized internet sites.

The one point no one has touched on is who or what oversees this process. I don't know about anyone else but I get nervous about a government organization overseeing such a crucial government function. The controlling organization must be a private, non-profit institution with multiple checks and balances built into the oversight system.

The voter, armed with this knowledge, such as that pointed out above by Mr. Hooson, can then take this information and factor it into a decision about who to vote for, based on what the profile of contributors indicates may be the likely, rather than promised, policy directions of each candidate. Personally, unlike Mr. Hooson, a candidate who accepted large donations from George Soros, trial lawyers, unions (especially teachers), and the Chinese government would be unacceptable.

My own proposal, which I've... (Below threshold)

My own proposal, which I've touted for years, is somewhat similar: ALL contributions must be disclosed on a specified public website BEFORE they can be deposited to the campaign account. For payments which cannot be physically "held," - credit card online donations, e-checks, etc. - they must first be deposited into a special account until their disclosure clears.

Failure to disclose under these terms results in an IMMEDIATE fine of 200% of the undisclosed contributions - IOW, fail to report $10,000, fined $20,000 payable up front.


Jay, I for one am sorry about breaking into your computer - especially the webcam files.

I still get nightmares.

"... - especially the we... (Below threshold)

"... - especially the webcam files."


OpenSecrets already has a good database as a foundation on which to build something profoundly sophisticated, but easy for the user. I've found buttloads of interesting donees listed there and been able to see some interesting connections between donations and current events surrounding them.

The problem is educating the public and piquing their interest enough to actually USE it, rather than 30 second TV soundbites around election time.

While Paul H is concerned about defense contractors and oil business and their influence on foreign policy, I have as much concern for lawyers and their influence on domestic policy. I just did a search here and the results said 196 out of the 435 members of Congress are lawyers. And people wonder why we've become such a litigious society.

I agree, full disclo... (Below threshold)

I agree, full disclosure for campaign contributions are required.

The idea that the relatives of candidates cannot 1)work for any candidate or 2) be a lobbyist is pretty assinine. Let's say my Mom, who lives in Colorado was running for office. Would then I not be able to work for a candidate here in Washington? Would I not be able to work for, say the Sierra Club or the NRA here in Washington? Or why shouldn't I be able to work on her campaign?

As far as businesses being able to contribute to candidates. Here's the thing on that. If people can contribute to anti-business candidates, businesses should be able to contribute to pro-business candidates. Seems only fair to me. Oh, and what about those people who are, themselves, businesses? Like entertainers or sports figures?

As long as there is full disclosure and accountability, I'm happy.

The idea that the ... (Below threshold)
The idea that the relatives of candidates cannot 1)work for any candidate or 2) be a lobbyist is pretty assinine.

I'm not concerned about those things, but not willing to call them asinine either.

If a candidate's wife or family member is actually doing work for the campaign, I don't see a problem.

I know it's an issue under current campaign finance laws because it can be construed as a payment to candidate through a proxy.

Under revised campaign finance laws, with full immediate disclosure, that wouldn't be as much of an issue.

Maybe there would need to be disclosure of who a campaign pays, what they do and how much. If a candidate is paying his wife $100,000/year to open envelopes and sort mail, that would be suspicious. But if she's keeping books, paying campaign bills, running a campaign headquarters, sweeping the bus and emptying the trash - well, that might not be excessive.






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