Gillian Tett on campaign finance is interesting throughout. This is a provocative paragraph:
But more noteworthy than the numbers is the increasingly fierce emotion – and cognitive dissonance – that the issue of campaign finance stirs up. In theory, America is a country that prides itself on the idea that Congress serves “the people”, not just the rich. Thus there is moral outrage over the concept of “buying the vote”, and laws exist to prevent that: individual donations are capped; most donations need to be disclosed; and (until recently) companies could not give directly to politicians.
However, precisely because these detailed laws exist – and because campaigning is a very costly business, subject to a permanent type of inflation-cum-arms race – in recent decades America has developed myriad practices to enable that cash to flow indirectly. The result is a dense shadowy network of middlemen, rent-seekers and ambiguous institutions that are complex and inefficient; if not, downright odd.
One wonders what might happen if straightforward bribery—the depositing of funds directly into a candidate’s personal bank account—were legal. Less rent-seeking, more efficiency. Candidates could choose to “self-finance” their campaigns out of the bribe pool, or else they might just go out and buy a fancy car. Forcing the principals to make these kind of tradeoffs internally might shed some light on how much money really “matters” in campaigns. Enhanced opportunities for personal enrichment via legislative office might attract a different caliber of people into the game—more greed and less egomania and lust for power.
Just a thought.
Alternatively, we could publicly finance campaigns like in a real country and enhance congress’ ability to access legitimate staff expertise and analytical capacity rather than relying on lobbyists and trade groups to do the work.