Money, Elections, & Campaign Finance Laws

Posted by David A. Peterson on 9. July 2014 in Issues |

I was driving to work this morning, listening to Herman Cain blast the Kingston Campaign (GA Senatorial Runoff Candidate) for lying in a political advertisement. Cain wasn’t sure if it was the Kingston Campaign or a supporting PAC which ran the ad, he didn’t care, his point was the ad was a bold-face lie.

As it happens I just finished the book Sons of Wichita by Daniel Schulman detailing how men, money, corporations, and PACs try to shape the narrative of issues and campaigns. After just completing the book I am hyper-sensitive to the issue of money and who’s supplying the money that is influencing our elections.

Listening to Cain on the radio I had an “aha moment” – maybe it is time for campaign reform, but not exactly in the light that politicians have been thinking.

If you think about campaign reform over the last 40 years it all centers around money. Who can give the money, how much money can be given, should those giving the money be tax exempt, etc. Given that the Supreme Court generally struck down limits on Federal Campaign donations, the amount of money flowing into campaigns is exploding. Money, Money, Money; money is everywhere and for every cause.

Personally, I don’t think money is the problem. The closest I can get to saying that money is the root of the campaign finance reform is the frequency of the ads being aired across all the mediums. Lately the frequency has become really annoying.

It’s not the money.

Let’s face it, the United States has a pretty educated population and our voters are interested in the issues that affect them personally. Having less money would quickly equate to less issues being covered. Less money would just lead to only anti-abortion ads from the right and only spread the wealth ads from the left.

Negative Ads?

So if it’s not the money should campaign finance reform focus on Negative Ads? Well isn’t just about every ad that represents the competitor negative to that competitor? Negative ads basically define the competitor’s position. Negative ads help differentiate the candidates. I’m not sure how you could define yourself without explaining the major or subtle differences between you and your competitors.

If it’s not the money and it’s not negative ads what should campaign finance reform contain?

Truthfulness with Accountability

What got under Herman Cain’s skin this morning was the lie. That lie forced Cain to spend at least the 1/2 hour I was listening on defusing that particular ad. During this period of his right leaning opinion show NO ISSUES WERE BEING COVERED. The lie deflected the actual differences between the candidates and put the focus on some other “make-believe” issue that may have resonated with the voters who heard the untruthful advertisement.

We need money because it gives us ad frequency. We need negative ads because they give us the difference between opponents. What we are lacking in campaigns is truthfulness and accountability.

Past campaign finance laws have done a nice job of telling the public exactly which sponsor paid for the ad. Future campaign finance laws need to focus on the truthfulness of the ad and who is specially accountable for that ad.

Here’s my short version:

  1. All political advertisement must be 100% truthful.
    1. No longer can you definitively say “He will raise your taxes” you must now say “He may raise your taxes and here’s why we believe this to be so…”
    2. No longer can you definitively say “The majority of scientist agree with global warming” you must now say “Here is the list of scientists that agree with me about global warming”
  2. All advertisers will be held accountable
    1. If one spec of the ad is found untruthful then the head of the organization associated with the ad is punished. In all cases the head of the organization is to be a person not an entity. When I say punished I’m talking jail time in the general population, not Gitmo or Club Fed.
    2. If the head of the organization that created the ad cannot be punished for any reason then the radio, tv, internet, or print medium that played or printed the ad takes on the punishment. The punishment is transferable to the organization that decided to air the untruthful ad.
  3. If the offended party that calls the ad a lie is wrong (in other words it wasn’t a lie after all.)
    1. The campaign is to be suspended and offender publicly carted off to jail.
    2. If somehow they still got elected they should be removed office, then jailed.

Isn’t that what is really lacking in our current government – truthfulness and accountability? If President Obama would just get to the bottom of the IRS scandal and hold people accountable all would be forgiven. If Secretary Clinton would have just resigned the day after the Benghazi attack due to her failing to secure the embassy all would be forgiven.

But currently the government as a whole or political campaigns in general can’t be trusted to tell the truth or even hold anyone accountable.

The next campaign finance law should not be about money (frequency) or negative ads (defining the differences between candidates), it should be about the truthfulness of the advertisements and holding the offending party accountable for their ads.

It’s a shame that we now have to tell grown-ups to always tell the truth.






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