originally published in the Brooklyn Rail
Lost in all the frenzy about who won the election was the fact that more money was spent on this campaign than any other in history. In the last week of it, Bush claimed to be receiving up to $2.2 million a day in contributions. Both Bush and Gore were accepting checks of over a million dollars. In sum, the funding added up to this: $430 million to the campaigns in soft money, $490 million in hard money.
I have an idea that will put the fun back in funding, but I’ll get there in a minute. Here’s how campaign financing works now:
The majority of campaign money comes from corporations and special interest groups and unions. The money is then spent, ostensibly, to get your vote. For the most part, the hard money is spent on the candidate’s tour, which costs, let’s say, a lot. First there are the buses, the planes, the trains, the cars, the advisers, the groupies, the food, the printing of backstage passes. Then there are the well-planned yet seemingly random hop-skip-and-jumps across the country, touching down in any “poll-approved” city or town in America. And there are the writers, the consultants and the stump speech. In turn, the soft money is spent on advertising the events: TV commercials, radio spots, newspaper ads, heck, even some newspaper articles, bulk mailings, etc. And don’t forget the slew of spin doctors at base camp, orchestrating the whole thing, letting everyone know what it all means.
In a possible future, in a smarter government, what I would like to see is this: a streamlined political system that takes all the money raised during the campaigns and puts it in my pocket.
And into your pocket, too. I mean, that’s what the average voter wants, right? Money in pocket. Imagine if we took all the political party “soft money,” and turned it into “party money,” into beer money. Or manicure money, or mobile phone money, or Frisbee money, or whatever. Now we’re talking.
Let’s look at the hard, cold numbers. Over $900 million were raised in this past presidential election. And over another $900 million for local races, 300 million for the NY Senate race alone. Let’s take a safe number of 2 billion dollars. Now, let’s rough it out to 276 million Americans, 200 million eligible and able to vote (still waiting for the 2000 census to get its numbers straight, or just finished). Factor in the commonly known “only 45% of those eligible to vote do vote.” So let’s see, 900 million divided by 45% of 200 million equals…Ah-ha. Under my plan, with each of us getting a fair split, every voting American would leave the polling booth with 100 dollars
Not bad for 15 minutes work.
And based on location, the sum could be even more. Floridians should get an extra 150 bucks; Californians, meantime, would pocket an additional 65 in cash; and this year, New York voters would make an extra 75 smackers.
Naturally, the more you vote the more you deserve. Casting a primary ballot ought to net $125. Meanwhile, the voting-obsessed—those off-year, primary voters—should make about 160 crisp ones just for showing up.
Surely this plan would edge us closer and closer to the more perfect union our forefathers imagined. After all, it would be their portraits in our pockets.
This system would turn the whole thing on its head. No longer would we hear the moan of “low voter turnout.” Instead, the concern would be too much voter turnout. So many people would come out to vote, every polling place would become West Palm Beach. Worse yet, high voter turnout might, God forbid, lower the average voter’s paycheck. And getting paid for voting, after all, is why we’re voting in the first place.
This is where America gets its strength. We turn voting over into the hands of what has made this country strong, the free market. Capitalism mixed with Democracy.
I mean, if all you had to do was pay someone to vote for your candidate, I mean, if that little “illegality” was erased, if special interest groups could simply hand you a hundred and get your vote, well, then my friends, you’d have a pocket full of Hamiltons. Yessir, you’d have money out the wazzoo, and people showing up on election day to make you breakfast in bed.
I mean, come on, a hundred dollars here and there…please? Do you know how much the auto industry paid year after year under Reagan’s watch to get regulations lifted so they could make and market the gas-guzzling Ford FlipOver with the peel-away tires? A whole lot more than you made voting for or against anyone, ever.
Moreover, in a pure free market system, if a product or service (e.g. selling apples, trading stocks, cleaning pools) is successful, others will enter the market and eventually a steady price will be set. But thanks to American ingenuity and greed, once the business of paying for a vote is successful (and it will be), the market will become saturated, and then over-saturated, then over-over-saturated. Just you remember though, that over-indulgence is the American way.
It’s a simple matter of supply and demand. There is demand for your vote, that demand will increase, and there is only a limited supply of possible votes. Your vote is therefore an inelastic commodity. Therefore, you can raise your price and always find someone to pay it. Under this plan, we, the voters, actually stay in control.
The more we care, the more we earn. Take this last election. Once the official “election” was over on November 7, the parties were no longer restricted by hard money contribution laws. The Bush campaign was pleading for minimum donations of at least 500% higher than were legally allowed before Florida cast the un-deciding vote. Meanwhile, Gore was raising money as fast as you could say, “I won the popular vote. I won the popular vote.” Now if they could just turn that money around to the voters, well, we’d be voting all the way through the midterm elections.
Paying for your vote erases social barriers. “The rich” won’t need the money and will eventually lose the desire to vote. Actually, it will be their money, invested in you, getting the vote they want so they can make more money. The rich, in short, will cater to the poor.
It’s a dream no crazier than the founders of the country actually founding a country. Me, I’m funding a country by funding its citizens. This is, after all, campaign FUNding reform.
I’d like to hear a presidential candidate in the near future lead the way with this inevitability. I’d like to hear a candidate say, “I’m no longer going to insult the American people by pleading your vote on an expensive campaign trip, on a commercial, on a bumper sticker that was paid for by my special interest groups. I’m not takin’ money from the corporations and the lobbyists. I’m gonna have them pay you.”
After that brave leader makes that honorable stand, then honest discussions can take place. Politics will drop from the list of things “not to talk about in polite conversation,” and be added to the list of sage financial planning.
“Oh, hey, Sara, are you voting this year?”
“Are you nuts, who wouldn’t? Read my political button.”
“‘Put your money where my vote is!’ That’s too perfect.”
“So how about you? Have you decided?”
“Well, I like the Democrat, they’re willing to give me 450 dollars, an “I hate hate crimes” tee-shirt, plus dinner at Red Lobster. But I’m leaning toward the Republican, ’cause I like the stock options, I like the convenience of voting at Wal-Mart, and I sure could use that new shotgun.”
“I know, I know.”
“You know what?”
“Voting is so much fun!!!”
It will be fun. It will be great. People will not argue or hate anymore. America will be the beautiful. The American People will be happy, free, and rich. And, finally, those do-gooder Nader-types will be out of the picture once and for all. I mean, Nader may be great for America, but he’s never gonna let Exxon slip you a twenty.