The content of this blog is my personal opinion only. Although I am an employee - currently of Imagination Technologies's MIPS group, in the past of other companies such as Intellectual Ventures, Intel, AMD, Motorola, and Gould - I reveal this only so that the reader may account for any possible bias I may have towards my employer's products. The statements I make here in no way represent my employer's position, nor am I authorized to speak on behalf of my employer. In fact, this posting may not even represent my personal opinion, since occasionally I play devil's advocate.

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Monday, October 16, 2006

Campaign Finance Reform - Not Limit - Matching Funds for "Equal Time"

As I listened to yet another of the perpetual discussions about Campaign Finance Reform - what is it, Oregon Measure 47? - I came up with the following idea. It's new to me.
Instead of trying to limit campaign contributions, which has all sorts of free speech implications, how about encouraging them?
But, tax them in the following way:
If somebody contributes N dollars to a political purpose, require that a matching amount f*N dollars be placed in a fund for "equal time".
The "equal time" funds would be distributed as follows: everyone - any citizen, any voter, whatever - gets an equal share of the "equal time" fund. He or she can assign his or her share of the funds to whatever cause or organization he or she wishes.
* some might assign all of their funds to their party, Democratic or Republican or ...
* some might assign their funds to their church
* I would probably assign my share to a "Contrarian" organization, dedicated to debunking the top 10 mistruths publicized by the original donation. E.g. I would fund counter attacks against the Small Boat Veterans for Truth in the Kerry campaign, but equally fund counter attacks against Democrat mistruths.
Bottom Line: the "equal time" funds would be distributed democratically. Each person would control his share of the money.
The ratio f might be set equal to 1; it might even be larger than one. Without loss of generality, let us talk as if f=1.
In such a situation, half of the money in politics would be distributed as it is now, according to the incliniations of the wealthy; but half would be distributed on a per capita basis. A plutocrat seeking to advance his cause would have to balance his expenditure against the consideration that he is also financing his opponents.
The downside, of course, is that the "equal time" funds are distributed proportionately. But it's like Churchill said: "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others."
One might even be able to have a graduated scale for the "equal time" funds: the poor might not have to match such funding, but the rich might. If you are a progressive, though, beware of what you ask for: the Republican party has many more small contributirs than does the Democratic party, which is funded mainly by a small number of wealthy individuals (and then unions).
I think this scheme might be able to meet US Supreme Court standards: it is not restricting free speech. It is just taxing it; and taxing it in a way that is eminently neutral. All speech gets taxed; and the taxes on free speech encourage still more free speech. By the way, that is not "free as in beer" free speech, eh?
Lest it become too dificult to tell what is a political contribution ad what is not, how about making this just be a tax on ALL advertizing, commercial, politucal, or otherwise?


JohnKStevenson said...

The simpler approach: just tax the donation and publish the names and amounts donated.
No special management needed, just take the money.
No more special interest hidden money.
This would help pay for the elections, and limit the hidden payments.
And most important, who gave how much is exposed. When tax free, it can be hidden.
Because the transfer is now legally taxed, the taxing authorities have an automatic interest in accounting for all of the donated moneys.
A "hidden" payment now is income to the PAC or party and subject to reporting and regulation.

Trivikram said...

Andy, I disagree with your statement

"without loss of generality, say f=1"

The value of f in my opinion is at the core of your argument.

Say Bill Gates runs for prez and puts up $1B for his candidacy and $1B for this fund and assume that the rest of the 299,999,999 people support this other guy "Candonowrong" but are too poor to contribute anything in comparison.

Now Bill, who has the support of NOBODY but himself gets $1,000,000,003.33 of campaign contribs, while his opponent Candonowrong, who can win by unanimous vote if it weren't for Bill, gets less money ($999,999,993.66). That can't be democratic!

AndyGlew said...


I am not sure what you think I mean by "Without loss of generality", but what *I* mean is "f could be any value, but for this example I will talk about f=1".

I suspect that f=0.5, f=1, and f=2 are interesting values. Although, overall, I suspect that values exceeding the marginal income tax rate may be hard to sell.

As to whether your (Triv's) Bill Gates example is fair: under the present rules, Bill would get to spend all of his money, and the rest would get nothing. So, what I propose is more fair than that.

True, some campaign finance lawyers point in other directions, but (1) I am fairly confident that such laws will eventually be found unconstitutional, almost certainly under the Roberts Supreme Court, but probably even under other courts, and (2) campaign finance reform only operates during campaigns. There is a lot of paid political speech that occurs outside of campaigns; indeed, nowadays we are in perpetual campaigns. Morever, I do not propose to distinguish political advertising from any other: I would lump commercial advertising in with it.

As for John K. Stevenson: I agree, simply taxing all paid speech is probably a good idea. However, although that increases the cost of advertising, it does not do anything to make the situation more fair. My scheme does.