Can campaign finance reform fix America’s broken political system?

In the United States, we have a broken political system. Candidates spend months fundraising to finance their campaigns. This can be an exhausting process, as donors expect favors in return for their money.

In 2017 alone, candidates raised more than 5 billion dollars from small-dollar donors. However, this financial system has created a winner-takes-all environment that makes it difficult for insurgent candidates to break into the office and keep it once they are there.

It also incentivizes politicians to cater to narrow interests rather than representing their constituents’ best interests. Fortunately, several reform proposals aim to address these problems while preserving citizens’ freedom of speech and association.

If implemented efficiently, certain campaign finance reforms could help solve America’s broken political system while upholding our country’s core democratic values of liberty and equality.

Background reading on how we got here

In the United States, we have a broken political system. Candidates spend months fundraising to finance their campaigns. This can be an exhausting process, as donors expect favors in return for their money. In 2017 alone, candidates raised more than 5 billion dollars from small-dollar donors.

However, this financial system has created a winner-takes-all environment that makes it difficult for insurgent candidates to break into the office and keep it once they are there. It also incentivizes politicians to cater to narrow interests rather than representing their constituents’ best interests.

Fortunately, several reform proposals aim to address these problems while preserving citizens’ freedom of speech and association. If implemented efficiently, certain campaign finance reforms could help solve America’s broken political system while upholding our country’s core democratic values of liberty and equality.

Proposal: Stop paying politicians to become politicians

In a representative democracy like the United States, lawmakers must have the experience and expertise necessary to make wise policy decisions. Unfortunately, some lawmakers also make a good living out of being lawmakers. Since 1992, members of Congress have been entitled to a pension for serving in government.

This is a pretty standard practice in most developed countries, but not in the US. We are one of only two developed economies in the world that still offer public-sector pensions. This is a bad idea. Members of Congress should get paid to serve the public, not to serve themselves. And the best way to do that is by removing the incentive to become a legislator instead of a professional lobbyist.

Proposal: Limit the influence of money in politics

It’s become clear that the influence of money in politics isn’t limited to campaign finance. Many scholars have noted that the US political system has become more and more disconnected from the people it is supposed to serve. The rise of gerrymandered congressional districts, the polarization of Congress, and the lack of representation in the executive and judicial branches are just a few examples.

Many of these problems stem from the fact that the financing of political campaigns is largely uncontrolled. Congress can take several steps to bring campaign finance in line with other areas of the political process. One option is to cap the amount of money that can be spent on any one election.

Another is to cap how long an individual can serve in Congress to prevent career politicians from fleecing the electorate and holding office for decades.

Propo s: Allow small donors to pool their money together

Too many political donors today are wealthy individuals who aren’t particularly interested in advancing a cause or electing specific candidates. Many of them may just want to throw their weight behind a cause or candidate to make a point—a practice commonly known as “astroturfing.” While this is not illegal, it is unethical and unhelpful.

To address this problem, several reform proposals have been made to allow small donors to pool their money together to fund preferred causes or candidates. This would allow donors to pool their money and remain anonymous, while still allowing their voices to be heard.

Proposal: Increase transparency and accountability

One major problem with our campaign finance system is the lack of transparency and accountability. Too much campaign finance is shrouded in secrecy, while not enough is subject to any kind of oversight. With campaign finance laws written before the internet, there are no laws to prevent foreign actors and domestic money laundering.

This is unacceptable. Transparency can be promoted by requiring all political donations to be publicly disclosed. This will allow the public to see who is funding campaigns and hold politicians accountable for their views. It is also critical to have strict laws preventing corruption and money laundering in the political system.