Election 2016 Round Table Discussion: Are there any realistic solutions to campaign finance reform?

Owatonna, MN Correspondent-It’s easy to say campaign finance reform has gotten so far out of control that nothing can be done. When money becomes the dominant force as to who wins elections, those without many feel their votes are wasted. But underdogs still win. Candidates with more charisma than cash sometimes carry the day, so money alone can’t guarantee election results. If that were true, we wouldn’t bother holding elections since we could just as easily award the victory to the candidate in each race with the biggest bank account.

The key to lessening the influence of money on campaigns is to restrict campaign tactics that require money. At the same time, expand campaign opportunities and strategies that require little or no money. One way might be to outlaw TV and radio advertising. These seem to be the primary outlets on which candidates spend money. In the aftermath of the Citizens United decision, more and more PACs and corporations are flooding the airwaves with their own messages, which have effectively done and end run around monetary limits on political donations.

Expanding internet access to candidates, by providing any legitimate candidate with a free website and webmaster at taxpayer expense, will encourage more efficiency in communicating with voters. Posting a campaign video online costs a fraction of what it might cost to air a thirty-second commercial during primetime television hours.

Limiting campaign travel spending might force candidates to make more efficient use of their campaign stumping and save money.

The most radical idea of all would be to restrict the campaign period to a reasonable amount of time. Three months might be adequate. Have the general campaigns start on the same day, after all primaries and conventions have been concluded, and let the contestants have at if for ninety days. Flooding the airwaves twenty-four hours per day won’t work because most voters will tune out after a day or two of nonstop negative ads. Emphasis will become more on promoting positions, personality, and qualifications for office rather than knocking down opponents.

Campaign finance reform can happen, but it will need some innovative thinking outside the box.

Myrtle Beach, SC Correspondent-First let me say I’m no expert on campaign finance. About the only thing I know is that there is a ridiculous amount of money spent. And, as far as realistic solutions to this I’m not so sure there are any.

Personally, I would like to see a BAN on all slanderous commercials. It’s just… well… slimy (for lack of a better word)! Why should candidates waste money slandering the other candidates rather than defending their own policies? As far as I’m concerned if you wish to pay for advertising there should be regulations regarding content, one being you are NOT allowed to mention another candidates name or use their likeness.

It’s just dirty, nasty politics. It’s not helping politicians be seen in a better light, and it’s certainly not getting votes; at least not from those who are educated. Candidates should be strictly monitored for slanderous behavior.

I know advertising is only a small part of campaign finances, and the bigger issue is probably where the fundraising money is coming from. I’m not sure how to stop it, but it’s blatantly clear that candidates receive money from special interest groups, which only muddies the water with their policies. How do we combat this? I would guess the only way is to make candidates be self-funded. Realistic? No, but it’s probably the only way to ensure an “unbiased” candidate.


Gastonia, NC Correspondent- Living in a battleground state, I get more of the barrage of political ads on TV than those of you who are fortunate enough to live in solidly red or blue bastions.  I can’t make it through an episode of “Criminal Minds” without hearing earnest voices more fit for an action movie promo trailer telling me how Sen. Richard Burr eats live babies for breakfast, or how his opponent wants to sell our children into slavery in Aleppo.

The Trump and Clinton ads are almost comically frequent, interspersed with the broadsides launched by the SuperPACs that back both candidates in hopes of furthering their own special interests.  It’s an appalling display of half-truths, outright lie, prevarication, grandstanding, breast beating and fable spinning more fitting of a WWE prime time event than our national political discourse.

All these ads cost money.  I work in the media (sort of) and I know that the parties and PACs spend huge money to blast us with these bits of propaganda.

Campaign finance reform is one of those phrases that we hear bandied about in off years, when the people being called on to support it aren’t actually nestled up to the money teat suckling for all they’re worth.  But the simple fact is that our political system will never be fixed until we tell our political toddlers that the milkbar is closed and that it’s time for them to stand on their own two feet.  Spending limits, the abolition of SuperPACs and the overturning of the Supreme Court’s idiotic ruling that corporations are people are just a few of the things that need to happen to make our TVs get quiet and our elections become more open.

As long as the two major parties can spend any third-party challengers into oblivion, we will continue to be doomed to the sort of Mutt and Jeff candidate slates we have now.

Prescott Valley, AZ Correspondent-Realistic solutions to campaign finance reform must come in the form of controllable spending as well as new approaches to reform campaign finances.  Instead of easing restrictions on political expenditures, which the landmark Supreme Court Citizens United case did in 2010, expenditures need  to be more closely monitored, accounted for and traceable to both  large and small contributors.

Though campaign finance information must be made public it is not easy to follow with most contributions being accounted for on a quarterly basis, so the identity of contributions by large donors (such as super PACs that collect unlimited contributions) can be difficult to follow because of slow accounting times. Then there are groups that don’t have to reveal donors or disclose information such as 501(c) (4) social welfare groups that are free of revealing any information under current IRS rules.  They can fund almost anything or anyone under anonymity.

Those analyzing campaign finances see unrestricted spending as a corruptive force but others view it as an equalizer. Corruption can come in the form of candidates willing to submit themselves to contributors who want favors in the end, but coercion through contributions isn’t necessarily the catch all for winning an election. Other factors are involved such as media support, direct advertising, etc.

Campaign finance problems stem from the fact that most contributions come from a small number of   wealthy individuals, families and their companies, as opposed to everyday citizens who rarely vote or contribute to political causes because of disenchantment with the system. With a small donor class having significant input, new approaches need to be put into effect to attract and engage individual citizens in the political process. Policy decisions need to reflect the participation and input from of all citizens, not just the elite donors.

In order to balance campaign financing and reform it through a democratic approach, new ways to involve voters in the political process need to be established, along with improvement in full disclosure of major donors that currently dominate in donations.

Realistic solutions that have been suggested to improve campaigning financing include:

–    Initiation of   state  legislation to encourage voters to be part of  the  process through public financing of political campaigns  by way of matching  contributions, vouchers, tax rebates, and other means that are evenly distributed to help fund campaigns and  support candidates of choice,

–    Full disclosure of the sources of political spending enforced through the Federal Election Commission so that potential voters can make informed decisions before casting their votes,

–    Public access and hearing of all candidates to put forth their platforms and voices on the issues,

–    Moving to small-dollar funding through the public as opposed to private large-dollar funding,

–    Full subsidies to qualified candidates (through state public campaign funding) where candidates agree to limit spending and fund-raising,

–    Expansion of Clean Election Laws and platforms throughout the states,

–    Candidate access to media, advertising, speaker representatives and other channels of public relations (PR) connections through additional public and private funding as well as free or volunteered air time,

–    Scrutinizing the Citizens United case from 2010 for loopholes that should be examined for donation amounts that encourage favorable returns and outcomes for large donors,

–    Possible Constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United concerning limits on campaign financing,

–    Political movement activation by everyday citizens (such as the Donald Trump phenomenon) can initiate real reform.

Campaign finance channels and big money donors are equal partners and that strong alliance has oftentimes hindered and shut out qualified candidates for state and federal offices.  With the incredible amounts of capital necessary to invest in campaigns, many prospective candidates simply don’t have the money or connections to invest in promoting themselves and a campaign.  Though wealthy donors and super PACs dominate the political scene, alternatives for financing through subsidies, matching funds, and small dollar contributions and other means can create an honest affiliation with the elites that allows every day citizens to run for office.

The role of large donations in elections does need to be examined as well as the corruption attached to it, but that won’t happen until the American public takes hold of the funding process and has the courage and fortitude to push for the right solutions to reform campaign financing. Reform can be accomplished with the right input from large movements of civic minded individuals willing to take the risks to make it happen.


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