Editorial: On campaign finance reform
The numbers describe a grim picture. The popular transparency watchdog site Opensecrets.org states that 0.35 percent of voting-age Americans donated $200 or more in the 2010 election. In 2008, the last presidential election, this number was 0.59 percent. While the Citizens United decision exasperated this issue, the problem existed before it. We are currently in an election season where the top individual donor has contributed over $36 million to the presidential campaign and outside political groups. It is illogical to think that candidates are spending as much time considering the needs of the non-donors among us as they are the donors, making donor needs vastly overrepresented.
The issue is complicated, and there are many proposed solutions. We, with some hesitation, endorse the Grant and Franklin Project proposed by Harvard Professor Lawrence Lessig. His idea creates an opt-in electoral voucher system. Each election year, a $50 tax voucher would be given to every American of voting age. This voucher could be used to donate only to candidates that have agreed to finance their campaign through said vouchers and donations capped at $100 from individual American citizens. Candidates’ option to fund their campaigns by the current method would still be available.
The voucher option makes approximately $6 billion per election cycle available to candidates — over three times what was raised in 2010. The cap here is much higher than any candidate could expect to raise on his or her own, making the choice not about fundraising potential, as it was in 2008, but the source of that funding. Choosing the voucher would be a politically popular choice and force the candidates to focus more on average Americans, giving college students like us a voice. The vouchers would also mean that student interests would receive attention equal to that of older age groups. An 18-year-old’s voucher would be worth the same as a 50-year-old’s.
Our hesitation is with Lessig’s financing of this voucher program. While it is true that nearly all voting Americans pay $50 in taxes somehow, that money is already spent. Lessig defends this by citing $90 billion in tax revenue that goes to “subsidies and regulatory protections,” at least some of which would be politically unsustainable in the new environment, thereby paying for itself. This plan cannot be guaranteed, and — given the size of the federal debt and deficit — all government spending must be scrutinized.
Despite the critiques, we still believe this expenditure is worthy. Members of both parties have criticized the time federal candidates spend on fundraising. We can imagine that where the government spends money would change if the voices of the vast majority outweighed the donating few. The upcoming visit from our famous alumna ought to serve as a wake-up call for the campus to the undesirable reality our civic system is facing and ways to fix it.