Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Public financing of elections

Ware Wendell asks:

If we're going to contemplate driving a stake through Buckley v. Valeo, shouldn't we go all the way and require full public financing of elections?

Wouldn't that ensure elections are more about ideas and responsiveness to constituents' concerns, rather than shooting slickly produced 30-second spots that are drilled into the public consciousness through heavy rotation?

Again, this is the kind of issue I don't discuss in the book, since it's not a "hard-wired" part of our current Constitution. The Supreme Court, of course, is split 5-4 on the constitutionality of relevant legislation, but I'm blessedly not very interested in what the Supreme Court says inasmuch as I'm focusing on how we might best design new constitutional provisions in lieu of the currently existing ones.

Larry Sabato has an extensive discussion of campaign financing in his book A More Perfect Constitution. One of his proposals is to "[r]eform campaign financing by permitting Congress to pass reasonable limitations on campaign spending by the wealthy from their family fortunes, and mandate partial public financing for general election House and Senate campaigns."

I have other things I must do today, but I certainly expect to return to the remaining posts and comments in the next couple of days and respond.


Blogger Brett said...

But, why should we want to drive a stake through the heart of Buckley v. Valeo? I'd rather drive a stake through the heart of campaign reform, thank you.

The campaign 'reformers' suffer from a staggering conceptual blind spot: Their failure to appreciate, and take into account, the conflict of interest inherent in letting elected incumbents regulate the efforts of citizens to unseat them.

The theoretical gains to be had from regulating political speech, (And let's not fool ourselves, the regulation of money is just a handle to get at the speech.) are dwarfed by the risk inherent in that conflict of interest.

I speak as a member of a third party, having watched over two decades as, every time we found a way to start gaining ground, it was "reformed" into illegality.

September 19, 2007 4:12 PM  
Blogger Brett said...

Hello? Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3.

September 24, 2007 5:40 PM  
Blogger Sandy Levinson said...

My thanks to Brett for his comment. I'm actually torn with regard to my own views on "campaign reform." One of my early articles was very critical of restrictions on campaign financing along the lines of Brett's comment. In the ensuing 20 years, I've gotten more worried about the distorting effects of really big money, though I tend to be suspicious of measures of McCain-Feingold.

For the purposes of this overall blog, I think the central question is whether the conduct of campaigns should be "constitutionalized," i.e., treated in the constitutional text itself, or left up to legislation, which, obviously, could take account of what is learned through experience and is easier to pass than constitutional amendments.

Sabato's book contains some interesting proposals re the structuring of presidential primaries, incidentally.

October 3, 2007 10:59 AM  
Blogger Brett said...

Whether or not the 'conduct of campaigns', which is to say speech concerning candidates for office, should be constitutionalized, with our present constitution it clearly IS constitutionalized, in at least two ways:

First, the lack of any enumerated power by which Congress, (As opposed to the states.) might regulate such conduct. The time place and manner clause, let me point out, addresses elections, not campaigns.

Second, the fact that such conduct is just exactly the sort of speech and publishing the 1st amendment exists to shield from federal interference, which shield the 14th amendment extended to state governments.

Now, in an ideal world should a constitution limit what the government can do in this area?


As I've said, it would be difficult to imagine a more profound conflict of interest in a democratic government, than allowing incumbents to regulate how people may seek to unseat them.

Leaving this up to legislation just blows off the whole problem of self-interested dealing by the people writing the legislation.

October 3, 2007 10:06 PM  
Blogger jsalvati said...

I have not read your book yet, though I intend to, but from the reviews I have read, it sounds as if you do not consider proportional representation scheme's at all. This seems like a strange omission to make if your aim is to reconsider the structure of American government, especially since the title of the book takes issue with lack of democracy in American government. Many other countries use such schemes. Can you correct me or explain why you omit this topic?

October 16, 2007 5:04 AM  
Blogger Tommy Times said...

I am another non-reader of your book, so far, but let me have a go anyway, and write a bit about non-democratic aspects of the constitution, as well as non-democratic aspects of the culture.

The non-democratic aspects of the constitution are quite obvious: the electoral college, the structure of the senate, the supreme court. The presidential system is easy to fix in isolation: a national primary and direct election by popular vote.

The Senate could be remade on the basis of population, keeping it as a smaller chamber with multistate districts. Or, the Senate could be reconstituted as a committee of the house, for the purpose of fulfilling its role in confirmation of Executive appointments.

The Supreme court justices should be elected.

Regarding anti-majoritarian aspects of the constitution, the ancient justification for them, from Madison, is to protect against tyranny of the majority. This argument can be made in a pro-democratic manner. In practice, however, the anti-majoritarian aspects function in an anti-democratic manner, for example, keeping us stuck in the Iraq war long after the people have given up on it. Regardless of ones opinion of the merits of staying, if a country stays at war despite the desire of the majority, that is not democratic. In fact, there is a good case to be made that committing the country to war should require a supermajority, just like overriding vetos or amending the constitution.

Maintaining the executive, house, senate, and judiciary as separate bodies should provide the positive aspects of anti-majoritarian structures, while democratizing their structure and selection might help suppress the negative aspects.

On the second point, non-democratic aspects of the culture, no reform of the political structure can succeed without considering the anti-democratic aspects of the culture. The dominant anti-democratic aspect of the culture is the power and influence of private, corrupting organizations, predominantly corporations. Electing the president and supreme court, and balancing the senate will mean nothing if the corrupting organizations can still buy the offices. Banning private financing of elections is necessary but not sufficient. Short campaign seasons will help. It is worth trying those measures to see whether they are effective.

A more aggressive step may be to require democratic structure in the governance of large corporations. This could include features such as requiring corporate boards to include representatives of the public, allowing mutual fund owners to set voting policy for fund managers, and partial or full government ownership in key industries.

December 19, 2007 10:04 PM  
Blogger taka said...

Haven't read the book, but it's going on my wishlist.

How we currently finance elections is the root of all that is wrong with our "democracy" (if you call it that).

What we really have is a Corporatocracy. If elected officials did not take the bribes of campaign contributions, then they might actually listen to the citizens who vote for them and not the corporations that don't vote.

Reforming how we elect people will allow us to have a true debate about all the other issues facing the country.

December 21, 2007 10:37 PM  
Blogger Gene Wine said...

Public campaign financing on a voluntary basis, such as they have in Maine and Arizona, would eliminate the free speech problem. We will not have a chance for a representative democracy until we do this. The other things would be the elimination of the Senate, giving the President a line item veto and then reducing the veto to 55%. A 2/3 line item veto would be a virtual dictatorship.

December 24, 2007 9:12 AM  

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