27 April 2012
Larry Lessig has a thought provoking piece over at The Atlantic on campaign finance reform, arguing that until we do something about the role of money in politics it will be almost impossible to address other challenges. Frustrated that neither political party is making any attempt to fix the problem, he argues for citizens to nominate a third party candidate through Americans Elect who will bring the issue to the forefront of the election. If the nominee can get more than 15 per cent of the vote in six national polls they will be invited to participate in the presidential debates, and perhaps force Mr. Romney and President Obama to talk about campaign financing. Many Democrats have worried that Americans Elect will hurt President Obama’s chances of re-election, but Professor Lessig-who is liberal-thinks it would be worth the costs:
Let both major party candidates then address this issue. If the consequence is that Romney loses to Obama because of it, then Obama will have some mandate to return to the issue again. If the consequence is that Obama loses to Romney because of it, then maybe the next would-be-reformer president will carry through on the reform he promised. And if the unimaginable happens -- that a true reform candidate captures the imagination of America and wins -- then maybe we can finally address this, the most important issue in American politics today. Just maybe.
I share Professor Lessig’s frustration that the issue has been absent from the campaign and that President Obama made no attempt in his first term to try and reform to the system. I’m sceptical though that having campaign financing mentioned in a debate or two would do much to change the political salience of the issue. After all, the 2010 Citizens United decision put the question at the centre of public debate for a few weeks, but hasn’t led either of the parties to offer much in the way of reform. In any case, changes to the way we conduct elections are long overdue. Choosing politicians the same way over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.
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