Among many serious efforts to limit the influence of mega-donors and restore the ability of ordinary voters to elect candidates who represent them, a new law that limits the length of public campaigns to five months is the answer.
Rules are the bedrock of a functioning government. They are the shared foundation on which we solve problems. The rules that endure rest on core principles plus the ability to respond and adapt to changing circumstances and changing times. For example, 200 years ago, two-year terms in the House of Representatives allowed sufficient time to legislate, draft a budget and return home to learn and serve constituent needs plus campaign for another two-year term. Today, most legislators’ two-year terms appear dedicated to raising money for the next rapidly approaching election.
There is a great, growing and inspiring awareness across our nation that a minuscule number of donors with infinite amounts of money have overwhelmed the needs, views and votes of ordinary citizens. Majority support for increasing the minimum wage to a living wage, reasonable gun control laws, fair immigration reform and basic health care for all are the most striking examples. Yet none of these problems are being resolved.
As a result, several serious efforts to limit the influence of mega-donors and restore the ability of ordinary voters to elect candidates who represent them are now in play.
However, these efforts all focus on controlling or managing the money pouring into the process. But accepting that frame is like attempting to patch a broken system with the rotten timbers that support it. New limits, new formulas, new committees and new hair splitting to control the way money runs the election process is the stuff of lawyers and lawmakers. Most people just see another Rube Goldberg monstrosity added to the Borg. These solutions do not engage them.
Only a basic change in the system will rally disgusted and despairing voters back on Election Day. But what change do voters tell each other, the media and the politicians they really want?
It is not less government. It is less campaigning! They do not want candidates yammering at them 24/7. They do not want campaign ads saturating the media every ten minutes. They do not want pompous pundits treating problems like football plays.
A clear, simple, new law that limits the length of public campaigns to five months is the answer: Memorial Day to Halloween. People on every Main Street in America would cheer.
Limiting the length of campaigns produces two other significant benefits. First, it seriously shortens the amount of time money can be spent. Thus many more candidates without deep pockets or billionaire backers can get their messages out, get them heard, and give voters the variety of choices that are so lacking now. Second, the huge hurdles of passing a constitutional amendment or battling highly paid corporate lawyers and their friends on the Supreme Court would be moot.