I’m currently reading Lessig’s “Republic, Lost” at the recommendation of my friend Dominik (thanks buddy). Because the book is about the influence and implications of money in politics, I’ve been thinking lately about how to combat this pervasive force.
Per usual, let’s start at the beginning – why do people want to give money to political campaigns? This is what I was able to come up with (Lessig does have discourse about this, but, I’ve taken my own liberties):
Candidate Support: They want to raise their “voice” to support the candidate and do not expect personal favors in return
Intrinsic Motivation: They value political engagement and want to participate in the process beyond voting
Reciprocity and Access: They want to curry favor with the candidate and want the candidate to prioritize their interests when elected
If a citizen is donating to a political campaign in the first two instances they probably aren’t donating a lot of money. Why? Because they don’t expect anything in return, and I suspect most people wouldn’t dogmatically support a political candidate enough to drain their savings without expecting something in return.
This assumption needs a bit of defense, but let’s continue and assume the corollary as well – that when people donate huge sums to political candidates it’s because they expect something in return. In return for donating money, they want access to power.
If that’s the case, and we want to mitigate the effects of money in politics, why don’t we just give people access to power for free? Isn’t that how it ought to be anyway? I’m envisioning a campaign where a candidate and his/her staff talk to thousands of constituents personally over the course of a campaign and when in office. My hypothesis is that if you actually listen to people’s problems on a personal level, and talk to them, you can get them to vote or even campaign for you.
Sure, that still takes money, but potentially much less because people have a real connection to a candidate and their interests are presumably more likely to be addressed as a result.
Of course, this is much harder in non-local elections and I’d have to make many more assumptions about voter efficacy to extrapolate this idea beyond local elections. But why not adhere to this policy in a local election? Even in a city of a million or so people, you could meet with 10s of thousands of people in a few months.
It’s a lot of work for candidates, but isn’t political leaders working directly with the people exactly how we want our republic to function? Who actually wants to continue to have money ridiculously influence politics?