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I’ve been thinking about the subject of campaign reform a lot lately, given that I was running for President of Babson’s Student Government Association, and also after reading about President Obama’s potential billion dollar campaign for the 2012 race. When it takes that much money to get elected for a government position, there’s clearly something broken within the system. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that there are 261 millionaires in Congress — people who make a normal salary just can’t afford to run for office.
We live in a republic, which in my opinion means that elected officials should truly represent their voters. When half of them are millionaires, the representation gets skewed towards the wealthy end of the populace. So what can be done to reform campaign laws to give competent but non-wealthy individuals an actual shot at getting elected? The short answer is, perhaps nothing. There is very little incentive for our current government officials to limit themselves in trying to get re-elected. However, if by some miracle we could get the system changed, this is what I’d like to see:
First and foremost, a limit on campaign spending. In terms of game theory, both candidates currently have a dominant strategy to spend more. Keeping in mind the fact that everyone has the right to free speech, one possible solution to this is to cap advertising spending at, say, $250 million. This would be purely limited to things like newspaper, TV, and online ads, billboards, etc. Each advertisement would have to be submitted to an independent campaign finance committee, purely for the purpose of tracking the cost. As long as the candidate was under the spending limit, the committee would be obliged to approve the ad, regardless of content. The candidate could also specify who would be allowed to spend advertising dollars on their behalf, so even private citizens could have the ability to create and distribute campaign ads.
The advantage to this system is that it would force politicians to rely more on grassroots movements and word-of-mouth to spread their message, and thus help ensure that the election winner was truly the mandate of the people, as opposed to just being the biggest spender.
The second thing I’d like to see is a statute of limitations on when campaigning can start. Again, the dominant strategy is to start campaigning early, and as a result, elected officials have to start thinking about their next elections almost as soon as they take office. This distracts from the work they’re supposed to be doing in the first place, and ultimately adds to governmental inefficiency. I think one year prior to voting is plenty of time to start getting your message out.
Got thoughts on what else can be done to reform campaigning here in the US? Let me know in the comments.