Politics and money are inextricably linked.Trying to keep them apart is like the cartoon character attempting to plug leaks in a boat with his fingers – it always ends with someone getting sprayed in the face.
Originally, only the wealthy were allowed to vote. Then the common man was allowed to vote and it became everyday practice to buy votes. Even well-respected presidents like Abraham Lincoln actually bought newspapers to give an apparatus of support during elections. No matter what, you have always needed money to get elected.
It wasn’t until the 20th century that fear and condemnation of graft led to efforts to reform campaign finance, and even then, the real efforts didn’t come until the 1970s. Following Watergate, many of today’s restrictions on campaign donations came to be. These were also the first steps toward publicly financed campaigns in an attempt to curtail the influence of money through matching funds.
Even after all of these efforts, however, the influence of money on elections and the decisions of politicians have only gotten more attention – most notably with the indictment of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.
Making the difficult issues of campaign finance reform all the more difficult are critics claiming that limiting donations and the types of advertising that can be produced for campaigns amounts to an infringement of freedom of speech.
Given all of these problems, it is time to try something new. Perhaps it is not the money that is corrupting politics, but rather the way we conduct our elections. A few changes to the way we handle our political process could make all the difference.
Obviously, the first issue that must be tackled is still money. As long as corporations and wealthy individuals foot the bill for campaigns, credibility of candidates will be eroded whether public concern is warranted.
So, it is time to take a page from the charity book. It has become a tradition in this country to donate to a charity on behalf of someone. If someone dies from a heart attack, you make a donation on his or her behalf to the American Heart Association. You would not give money to the family to help find a cure; you give the money to someone who can help.
Likewise, all campaign donations should be made to the Federal Elections Commission on the behalf of a candidate. No more money should ever go to a campaign from people or corporations.
The next step is to stop automatically allowing political parties to have a candidate on the ballot. Not even the incumbent would immediately appear. Currently, a certain percentage of the vote will guarantee that a party will be a choice for voters in the next elections cycle, which makes life difficult for new or small parties.
Instead, require everyone to fill out paper work and have a certain number of petition signatures to get on a ballot – even the Republicans and Democrats endorsed by their parties. They must do this with their own money.
They will then get some funding to get an additional number of petition signatures before they can be considered in an election. Anyone who gets the right amount of signatures would be accepted and would be given more funding from the FEC to run his or her campaign (an amount that everyone gets equally).
The FEC should then require the candidates to participate in a public debate, in which all candidates are allowed to take part. Currently, the number of presidential debates is decided by the candidates and usually excludes third parties and independents.
Following at least one of these debates, in the place of party primaries, March should be the time for a first round of elections. All of the candidates would appear on a ballot without political affiliations of any kind and no straight-ticket voting would be possible.
The two candidates with the highest number of votes would go on to a set of debates and the general elections. The FEC would give them a set amount of money for the remainder of the campaign.
Political parties could choose to endorse one of the two candidates, but that would be the extent of their involvement.
Is this idea a drastic change from the way we currently handle our elections? There is no doubt about that. Drastic change is needed if we ever want to see progress in our political system. Even if a plan like this could pass, however, the biggest piece of the puzzle needed to reform our political system would not be fixed. The people must first learn about the candidates and the issues in elections and go to the polls – something few eligible voters do.
Managing editor Brian Chatman is a senior news-editorial journalism major from Fort Worth.