Jack Strayer: Another way to look at campaign finance reformPublished 11:01pm Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Campaign finance reform is always a hot topic and there have been many attempts to reform our system of financing campaigns. These attempts — some successful and others not so much — have led to a hodgepodge of limits, restrictions and solutions that merely make things worse.
Current law mostly deals with restricting contribution limits, and as a result, an individual living in the State of Michigan can contribute a maximum of $500 per primary election and $500 per general election to a candidate for local, county and state representative in a two-year election cycle. Limits rise in more populous regions of the state, but for communities with less than 85,000 people, this is the rule. For the office of state senator, the limit is $1,000 per election and $3,400 for governor.
For U.S. Senate and U.S. House races, you can give only $2,500 per election. This means $2,500 for a primary campaign and another $2,500 for a general election.
Because all of this is so complicated — but also vitally important to protect the voters from elections being “bought,” I think we should focus more on reforming how these campaign contributions are SPENT rather than how they are raised. Let’s just call it Campaign Finance SPENDING Reform.
My rationale is that if we restrict how campaign contributions are spent by placing limits and caps on certain campaign spending activities, candidates would not have to raise so much money to get elected.
Personally, I was lucky to have managed campaigns when we didn’t have to rely on automatic robo phone calls and television commercials and high-tech wizardry. However, for full disclosure purposes, I did work for the 1976Stockman for Congress Committee which has the historical designation as the First Computerized Congressional Campaign because we were the first campaign to use word processing technology to personalize letters and track individual registered voters. That led to the First Computerized Congressional Office. All of us on former U.S. Rep. David Stockman’s staff can attest to the fact the then-U.S. Rep. Al Gore copied our computerized office system for his own Tennessee Congressional Office, so there is no way he could have invented the internet without giving David Stockman attribution. But that is for another column some day.
Back to limiting campaign spending. I am proposing an out-right ban on campaign advertising on television! For all elected offices! Some may see this as an advantage for incumbents, but the trade-off would be worth it, don’t you think? It would force candidates to do something unheard of: go door-to-door to meet your future constituents and find out what is on their minds.
There are already precedents on limiting television advertising, so we aren’t doing anything unconstitutional in regard to free speech. Most TV advertising restrictions are based on “community standards of decency,” and what would be more beneficial to that than banning campaign advertising.
The vast majority of campaign dollars are spent on television advertising. Without being able to use television for advertising purposes, campaigns would not have to raise so many millions of dollars. So much of the advertisements are negative and misleading, filled with falsehoods and monotonous charges of this distorted voting record or that old tired scandal, banning television advertising would actually clean up our political system. By enacting campaign finance spending reform, we would restore a little dignity to the process so that, inevitably, the people who should really be running this country won’t be deterred by the thought of relentless television attacks on their character.
I am sure I am not alone in wishing for changes in political advertising on television. Somebody needs to start this dialogue and I guess I already have. Unfortunately, the only way to promote this approach to campaign finance reform is to spend money advertising on television.
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