The money election

To the Editor:

The 2012 presidential election cost $2.6 billion.

About $1.3 billion was spent by the candidates, and $578 million of the balance represents “influence spending” by political action committees promoting or attacking particular candidates or issues, an enormous increase in 2012 made possible by Citizens United. They force campaigns to spend more.

Running for office costs money. It is raised through a relatively small number of individuals. Lawrence Lessig, in “Republic Lost,” says we have two elections for every race: the money election and the voter election. The money election determines who can compete and the scope of the campaign they can run.

Many see nothing wrong with all the money that pours into our elections, calling it a matter of “free speech.” Here is the problem: 1. Our elected officials are primarily indebted to donors who support their campaigns, not those who vote for them, and 2. Those who fund the candidates do not represent the public, but have their own agendas.

The voter election is democratic, the money election is not. There are about 140,000 “relevant funders” of our elections, about 0.05 percent of the voting age population. Some of them also donate millions to “independent” PACs. While no money changes hands overtly, the funders expect a return on their investment. It is not surprising that a senator who denies climate change receives donations from oil executives, or those opposing tax reform get large donations from corporate CEOs.

Our democracy is broken. The money election breeds corruption. Our representatives should be responsible to the voters alone.

The solution: Reduce the influence of large donations, and increase the number of donors. Congress will never change political finance laws if they think they won’t get adequate election funding. But look, if only 10 percent of those who actually voted in 2012 gave $110, perhaps encouraged by federal matching or tax incentives, that would completely fund 2012-style presidential campaigns. Some want to donate more, to include candidates for other federal, state and local races, PACs, political parties and advocacy organizations.

Fine, but let’s limit total annual political contributions to $3,000 per person. “Free speech” should not mean that a few get the biggest PA system money can buy, while the rest of us must simply shout. The volume of political speech should depend on the number of people speaking with one voice, not the size of their wallets.