Many questions and issues have been raised about monetary contributions to political campaigns. As campaigns become more expensive, candidates need to raise more money. But, Fair Election laws limit individual contributions to a relatively low amount so a candidate has to try to gather lots of contributors. Or contributors give their excess moneys to PAC or 527 organizations that then contribute to the candidate or campaign independently for their pet issues.
Either way it ends up as a mess. The candidates can’t vet all their sources and they may not have an incentive to do so. PACs and 527s that promote special interests don’t have any real controls on their activities. But do we need controls?
In some sense I think we do, unbridled contributions by all and sundry lead to either the appearance of a conflict of interest or a real conflict of interest between office-holders and their constituencies. And the appearance, or conflict, does not become apparent until well after the election. But individuals should be allowed to contribute what they want to whomever they want. That’s just basic American values.
I suggest the there be unlimited contributions by registered voters to the candidates of their choice and that there be full disclosure of the contributors within a reasonable time-frame, say 3-5 days, in a public domain. (Given the ubiquity of the Internet, passing the information back to the appropriate election committee and getting them to post it in an organized manner should be straight-forward.) No obscuring or obfuscating the information. The contributors will be identified by their voter registration information so some sort of cross-checking is possible.
I don’t know if there should be a minimum amount that doesn’t need to be publicly posted. Some people might not want it known by the Democratic neighbors that they contributed $50 to a Republican candidate. That can be debated, but putting a non-publicized level in place starts the process of obfuscation. If a citizen can’t participate in the political process because of fear of retribution, then the terrorists have won.
This approach may not eliminate the PACs and other special interest campaign groups, but it may cut back on their input because their contributors may send the money directly to the candidates. Any group that is collecting for referendum campaigns should also be covered by these election contribution rules.
I’m not sure about political party contributions. Should parties be required to provide full disclosure as to who is giving them money? Since the parties can’t contribute to a candidate’s campaign, most of what they would do is run issue ads or party promotional ads. And again, most contributors will probably be going directly to the candidates.
Putting a limitation of only allowing registered voters to contribute will change the political fiscal scene. It will be interesting to see what happens.