The Root of Corruption is Private Money in Public Politics

Publicly Funded Elections

If there were a single cause as to why our government and society have been corrupted to the degree we see presently, it’s the fact that wealthy interests have the ability to legally bribe our elected representatives through “campaign contributions.” These interests can spend billions of dollars to fund election campaigns, we can’t, thus they purchase influence over our interests at will.

To change this, the Alliance Party would institute a legal framework that would mandate all election campaigns for public office be funded exclusively from public money, prohibiting candidates from accepting third-party funds. Before we go over its details, we'll review some of the things it would (and would not) do.

Third-parties would be free to spend their own money to promote a candidate or cause as they desire, but they must do so under an honor rule. That means all political speech promoted by a third party (or donations to that effort) must be fluidly transparent. In short, anyone promoting a third-party message must sign their name to it - and do so conspicuously.

If Mark Cuban (for example) wants to buy a few million dollars worth of airtime advertisements promoting a candidate, he has a sacrosanct First Amendment right to do that. But in exercise of that right, Mr. Cuban should sign his name to any advertisements he pays for so the public knows that he is the solicitor of the message they are seeing. He wouldn't be able to, for example, pay his secretary to run the advertisement under their name - in our model that would be unlawful.

Our model places no limits on the amount of money individuals can spend on advertisements they personally sign their name to. However, it would limit the amount of money individuals could donate to Political Action Committees to $2,500. If they wish to spend private money promoting a candidate or initiative beyond that, they must pay for personally solicited advertisements.

Corporations would have higher restrictions. If Pfizer wants to run an ad promoting a candidate with pro-pharma leanings, their opinions shouldn't be muzzled. But without exception, every political advertisement they buy in every form must have "A message from the Pfizer Corporation" conspicuously posted. Moreover, corporations would be limited in the amount of money they could spend during an election cycle. Corporations would be prohibited from donating any amount of money to Political Action Committees. They could spend up to $1 million for advertisements that they sign their name to.

For Political Action Committees, any donor over $500 must be conspicuously listed on the committee website. All advertisements must provide clear notifications directing people to where this list can be found (such as a URL).

We support and seek to strengthen laws that prohibit interactions between election campaigns and Political Action Committees or third party promotions. The Alliance Party supports the First Amendment right of Americans to voice their opinions, and is not in the business of preventing corporations from speaking their mind either. We all benefit from more voices in the room, and if a voice is louder by way of financial means, so long as the public knows exactly who or what is behind that voice - we're okay with that.

But as all elections are funded by public money in this model, should a candidate collude with a third-party promotion effort, that would be a felony offense. Cheating the American public is never acceptable, and we would seek criminal penalties that hammer home that message.

With this said, the framework the Alliance Party proposes to publicly fund elections is as follows:

Estimated election cost and spending cap

Estimated election cost and spending cap

Within our Government 2.0 model for public service, we propose the creation of a new entity called the Federal Election Service, which is the consolidation of all election-related agencies at the federal level. One of its primary duties would be to estimate the costs of elections for a given level of government in a given region, and issue public money to pay for them (cutting the present defense budget by 1% would more than cover the total expense of this effort).

This would work through something we’ll call a “maximum estimated cost” – which is a cap of how much public money would be available to finance the election.

This cap would be determined by a few factors:

First, it would take the average amount of money each candidate of each major political party spent the previous three election cycles (which includes primary elections). Taking the highest average, it would multiply it by one and a half times (150%) to create the cap. That’s not how much public money would be issued for the election, but the maximum amount that could go to each candidate.

To help explain how this would work with the two main political parties today, let's take a look at the following table for a sample election to Congress:

Republican Candidate Democratic Candidate
2014: $100,000
2012: $75,000
2010: $65,000

Average: $80,000
2014: $110,000
2012: $90,000
2010: $55,000

Average: $85,000

Taking the higher average ($85,000) and multiplying it by 150% comes to $127,500 which would stand as the spending cap for that election. Now, let’s apply this same scenario to a sample Senate election:

Republican Candidate Democratic Candidate
2014: $1,500,000
2008: $850,000
2002: $700,000

Average: $1.01 million
2014: $1,300,000
2008: $740,000

Average: $863,000

Taking the higher average ($1.01 million) and multiplying it by 150% comes to $1.51 million which would stand as the capped amount of public money made available to run for Senator in that state.

Once again, this isn’t how much money will be made available; it’s the total amount that could possibly be made available. This difference is important, and we’ll get to why shortly within other proposals to campaign finance.

Ballot qualification standards

Ballot qualification standards

Today, candidates for election require a set number of signatures in order to qualify for ballot placement. While states vary in their own requirements, the Alliance Party would propose a national standard to qualify for ballot placement for national elections.

To run for a House seat, a campaign would be required to collect a number of signatures equal to 2% of the registered voters in their district. For a Senate seat, the campaign would be required to collect a number of signatures equal to 2% of the state. For the Presidency, the campaign would be required to collect a total of 100,000 signatures from voters in at least four states.

It's important to note that in this model, public funds are not issued for the purpose of gaining signatures; this process must be self-funded and is the only aspect of the election campaign that would involve private funds or donations.

The reasoning behind setting the bar this high is to exclude non-serious individuals from running. It also ensures that public funds are only issued to candidates who have enough support from the public that their candidacy can be considered viable. Yet the bar is not set so high that it excludes the non-wealthy, allowing anyone who has demonstrated the seriousness of intent on running to do so.

Notably: any private funds raised for the purpose of gathering signatures would not be allowed to devote to election campaigns in our model, remaining money must either be returned to donors or donated to charity.

Stages of election and release of funds

Stages of election and release of funds

Once a candidate has qualified for an election, their campaign would be eligible to receive public money to fund their campaign. And it’s essential to note that this isn’t a government employee who shows up with a check. Rather, the money would go into a bank account that is provided and funded by the Federal Election Service, which we’ll call the Candidate Election Account.

By law, this account would be the only funding source a candidate’s campaign could use for any election-related expenditure: paying salaries, buying ads, transportation, etc. This will become important in the context of public accounting for election funds, which we’ll get to momentarily.

Upon qualification, a candidate would be able to receive public money to run for nomination by their own party. This would be no more than half of the maximum estimated cost of the election as determined above. Any funds not spent during the primary election can be saved for use in the general election, should the candidate win.

Once a candidate wins their primary, the remaining 50% of the maximum estimated cost of their election would be made available to spend in their campaign in accordance with all applicable laws.

Transparent and Public Accounting

Transparent and Public Accounting

A founding principle of the Alliance Party is transparency and accountability for public service. That mindset is at the core of our proposed mechanisms for campaign finance reform.

Because each candidate could only use one bank account by law, the Federal Election Service would compile all financial activity surrounding Candidate Election Accounts on a weekly basis, and make all reports publicly available. This data would include what was spent, where it was spent, how it was spent and who received the expenditure.

This provides the public with a detailed insight toward how a candidate approaches fiscal responsibility, giving no small indication on what their financial mindset would be if elected. Actions speak louder than words, and forcing transparency in this regard gives the public more truth about the people running to represent them than empty talk ever could.

It also shows vision into the spending priorities of campaigns. Are you spending money to travel to meet voters? Or on attack ads and meetings with power brokers? Are you showing up for photo opportunities? Or to actually have a discussion with the electorate? Eric Cantor’s campaign spent $168,000 at steakhouses. Think he would've been elected in the first place if that expenditure were on his Candidate Election Account balance sheet?

But it’s also worth calling out that controversy will abound at this, due primarily for “privacy” of the candidate. Simply stated: not good enough. When one runs for office they run to be public servants – servants and stewards of the common good. We have every right to transparently assess their competence and leadership qualities apart from spin or rhetoric. If you want to work to serve society and manage our future interests, society should have the ability to assess your qualities transparently.

This concludes the initial model we'd deploy to publicly fund elections. Should our party gain enough support to achieve this goal and the others we have set, more concrete policy proposals will be provided with more details at that time.

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