CAMPAIGN FUNDRAISING: WHO RUNS FOR OFFICE

ABSTRACT: Because of the way we fund campaigns, we have two elections every cycle, the money election and the voting election. For Congressional races, fewer than 1 in 400 people contribute $200 or more to a campaign. This one-quarter of 1% of the population determines who will show up on the ballot for the voting election. Consequently, these campaign contributors, this 1 out of 400 people, have the power to block candidates from getting on the ballot and, therefore, the power to block – to veto – issues and policies from even getting on the agenda. There are many ways to change the funding of campaigns and broaden who can afford to run.

The current elections will have huge amounts of money spent on negative advertising. Voters will be turned off and disillusioned by the whole process and therefore will not bother to vote. We the voters must stay engaged and elect the best candidates we can find. And then we must hold our elected officials accountable for their actions after they are elected.

FULL POST: Because of the way we fund campaigns, we have two elections every cycle, the money election and the voting election. If you don’t win the first, or at least show that you’re competitive, you don’t even get to the second one. For Congressional races, fewer than 1 in 400 people contribute $200 or more to a campaign. This one-quarter of 1% of the population determines who will show up on the ballot for the voting election, the one everyone thinks is the real election. To succeed as a Congressional candidate, you must gain the support of these large contributors.

Consequently, these campaign contributors, this 1 out of 400 people, have the power to block candidates from getting on the ballot and, therefore, the power to block – to veto – issues and policies from even getting on the agenda. This tilts our democracy toward plutocracy, where the wealthy rule and the rest of us try to hold on for the ride. “[A] nation in which so few have the power to block change is not a nation that can thrive.” [1]

And the proof is in the pudding; it’s not what candidates say on the campaign trail, it’s what they do in office. There’s plenty of winking and nodding that goes on during the campaign, where the one quarter of 1% know that it’s just rhetoric and that they don’t have to worry that action will follow.

There are many ways to change the funding of campaigns and broaden who can afford to run. One that is in place in Arizona, Maine, and a few other places is to match small campaign contributions from individuals with public funds. Presidential elections used to have a mix of private and public funds until the public funding got overwhelmed by huge sums of private money. A newer idea is to give every taxpayer a voucher that can only be used to contribute to campaigns. Another approach would be to reduce the cost of campaigns and the importance of money by requiring broadcasters – who get to use the public airwaves – to provide free air time to candidates so they don’t have to spend small fortunes on advertising.

The current elections will have huge amounts of money spent by supposedly independent groups outside of the candidates’ own campaigns. The bulk of this money will be spent on negative advertising. The small number of wealthy individuals and corporations that are funding these outside groups hope, in part, that voters will be turned off and disillusioned by the whole process and therefore will not bother to vote.

We, the voters, cannot fall into this seductive trap of cynicism and apathy. We must stay engaged and active in the election, and elect the best candidates we can find, even though they are rarely if ever perfect. And then we must hold our elected officials accountable for their actions after they are elected.


[1]       Lessig, L., 7/13/12, “Big campaign spending: Government by the 1%,” The Atlantic

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