Some federal election law ideas

  1. Only 60 days of campaigning for each election
  2. Campaign contributions limited to $1,000 per person, $25,000 per corporation
  3. No PACs
  4. Candidates cannot spend personal money
  5. Campaign spending limited to $10 million per campaign
  6. Free TV airtime for candidates, equally allotted

Obviously the politicians are still going to look for ways to game the system, but I think stronger limits are needed on the time and money spent on campaigns. As for the TV airtime, those frequencies were given freely to the networks to serve a public good. I don’t think it’s beyond the reach of eminent domain to take back a few million dollars worth of time. With free airtime candidates wouldn’t need to raise as much money in the first place. Contribution limits would help reign in overreaching special interests. Thoughts?

And the inconvenient First Amendment?

“restrictions on free speech are required to comport with a strict three part test: they must be provided by law; pursue an aim recognized as legitimate; and they must be necessary (i.e., proportionate) for the accomplishment of that aim.”

I don’t think restrictions like these necessarily fail that test.

IIRC, the bar for those tests is pretty high. I think your proposed ban on PAC’s would also violate freedom of association.

So we change it: if stations want to use our airwaves, they have to agree to allot significant amounts of airtime to all candidates, and not to air campaign commercials. They’re welcome to air campaign commercials on cable, in newspapers, and so forth.

Candidates who want access to this free airtime must agree to spending limits on campaigns. They’re welcome to refuse the free airtime and turn down the spending limits.

Immediately remove all laws that favor political parties above individual candidates.


All candidates? can’t be done. Both the spending limit and the party message can be divided into an unlimited number of politicians and released like locust to devour the airwaves.

Just take the $10,000,000 spending limit and multiply it by 10,000 of your favorite candidates who will then run as independents.

Nothing is perfect but the 2 party system has worked well over the years. They collectively represent the majority of voters with a good cross section of special interest groups. The benefit to this is that we don’t have a dozen individual groups vying for individual power at the expense of the majority. The historic length of time given over to the process allows a significant vetting process to take place.

If it’s free equal TV time for all candidates, we’ll need some additional channels,
particularly if we include California governor recalls.

On the presidential level, there is generally a dozen or more individuals who’s name appears on at least one state’s ballot in the general election. It is pretty easy to get on the ballot in a couple states, give free TV time and we could actually have dozens, perhaps hundreds!

Actually, this isn’t really a problem. A reasonable threshold (e.g. mathematically able to win by carrying all the states where he’s on the ballot) would give no more than a half-dozen Presidential candidates (based on ballot listings from the last few decades).

The more serious problems, as Bricker noted, are the fundamental Constitutional issues that would arise from attempts to channel political speech into the government-approved avenue.

based on ballot listings from the last few decades???

I agree that current threshhold laws are a good thing, and I never proposed doing away with them. I propose requiring Democrats and REpublicans to conform to current threshhold laws, instead of getting a cost-saving bye.


And of course all you would do with these suggestions is insure that all incumbents are re-elected. How is a challenger supposed to get him name recognition up if he can’t campaign more than sixty days or spend his own money?

There really is no reason to have these campaign finance laws or most of the ones we have. All they do is protect entrenched incumbents and make campaigns less competitive.


Well, let’s take a look at the proposals, viewed through the lens of current Supreme Court caselaw.

1. Only 60 days of campaigning for each election

I’m not aware of any precedent that would suggest there would be First Amendment problems here.

2. Campaign contributions limited to $1,000 per person, $25,000 per corporation

Clearly permissible under the First Amendment, per Buckley and its progeny, as reaffirmed by McConnell.

3. No PACs

As Larry mentions, there are likely associative problems here – although the Supreme Court declined to take that tack in Buckley, and its denial of certiorari in Casino Ass’n of Louisiana v. Louisiana suggests that it has no problem limiting the political speech of certain groups relative to others.

4. Candidates cannot spend personal money

Clearly impermissible under Buckley and its progeny.

5. Campaign spending limited to $10 million per campaign

Clearly impermissible under Buckley and its progeny.

6. Free TV airtime for candidates, equally allotted

I’m not aware of any precedent that would suggest there would be First Amendment problems here.

So there are First Amendment issues with some of the proposals, but at least half would likely pass constitutional muster.

I still say the first thing to do is to prohibit donors from giving to competing candidates in one election cycle, as has become standard practice. There’s an easy argument, especially since McConnell, that were Congress to prohibit this kind of bet-hedging behavior, sucha prohibition would be constitutional.

Of course the 2 parties collectively represent the majority of voters, they rarely, if ever, agree on a major issue, so when you add them all up you get all the views on all the issues, but a serious third party wouldn’t be so bad, as it could provide some middle ground for the moderates out there or for people who agree with one party on half the issues and starkly oppose them on others.

I disagree; seems like taking the two major parties together provides you with a very limited spectrum of views on many, many issues. F’rinstance, out of the Democrats and the Republicans, to which would I turn for support in my belief that prostitution should be legalized? That farm subsidies should be abolished?

There’s plenty of room for third parties encompassing many different political axes than simply “some middle ground for the moderates.”

Actually, the two major parties pretty much agree on the major issues all the time. All they do is fight over the margins on the issues – one party wants a big tax cut while the other wants it to be smaller, one party wants to spend X amount of dollars on a certain program but the other party wants to spend $100 million less, one party wants to force welfare recipients to work 35 hours a week and the other party wants to force them to work 30, etc. The two major parties don’t really disagree much on substance. They mainly disagree on degree and how fast to do something.

I disagree. There may indeed be issue space for third parties, but there is little incentive either for people to vote for them or to raise sufficient resources to pay the election entry costs.

Under first-past-the-post electoral rules, unsurprisingly both parties select ideologies in order to capture the vote of the median voter on as many issue axes as possible. In a very simple and abstract version of this electoral game under “ideal” conditions, both parties select identical issue platforms and the election is won by a coin toss because nobody actually votes.

While viable third parties can exist under FPTP electoral rules, equilibria including them are typically not stable, and the number of parties reverts back to two. This has come to be known as Duverger’s Law, although counterexamples do exist.

There’s math here, and median voter theory, too, but I doubt anyone wants to see it. :wink:

Well…yeah. I was just talking about issue space, disputing Section 408’s characterization. Our current system (for reasons including but not limited to FPTP and winner-take-all) is explicitly weighted towards two parties – the Supreme Court’s even confirmed that the Democrats and Republicans can work together to make it harder for third parties and independent candidacies to gain a foothold.

What’s your take on my feeling that we should prohibit bet-hedging? And how the hell was the honeymoon?

Well, unless an issue is fundamentally indivisible, there are an infinity of points on a single dimension issue space. Vacuously speaking, there is always room for another party on the issue space. This just raises the question, if you throw a party and no one (or a number of people statistically indistinguishable from zero) comes, does anyone care?

With that in mind, there are lots of abstractly possible positions for new parties, but scarcely any that can come about in the real world. If you believe that the probability of winning over the median voter is low, then your electoral prospects are dim. No party will be formed because practically speaking, there is no room in the issue space for you. The preferences of the median voter determine the actual issue space.

I believe that democrats and republicans suppress third party candidates by consistently raising the electoral entry costs. It should come as no surprise that in every electoral cycle, candidates outspend candidates from the previous cycle.

I disagree with your position on bet-hedging. My argument will be non-rigorous, though I suspect given time and interest I could prove it mathematically. My argument is also not legal nor constitutional. It is based on the following logic. Please forgive pedantry and tediousness: I am just trying to make this as explicit as possible to avoid confusion.

A) Politicians desire to keep their jobs and will behave in ways that maximize their probability of reelection (or maximize their vote share, whatever).

B) Politicians reward the supporters who are instrumental to their electoral success. Politicians reward instrumental supporters with a blend of public and private goods.

C) Politicians do not have unlimited resources at their disposal with which to reward followers. They want to pay out the minimum to get them elected and pocket the rest.

D) The cost of private goods varies directly and linearly with the number of supporters that require rewards. Public goods do not. For example, suppose a road costs $1m to build. Suppose it costs $5k cash to buy the support of a voter. If you only require the support of 100 voters, it is cheaper to cut them all checks. If you require the support of 1000 voters, it is cheaper to build them all a road from which everyone derives benefit. If they don’t vote for him, they get nada.

E) In a bet-hedging situation, the elected official is beholden to a broad body of corporate and personal interests, since there are fewer restrictions on who can donate to his campaign. He needs to reward them all somehow with either private goods (checks, tax breaks, special access) or public policy goods. He is more likely to use public policy goods to reward his supporters: he can’t give every corporation who votes for him a tax break since he just can’t afford it, and giving corporate subsidies to some supporter industries could easily hurt other supporter industries, so he would not implement them. He rewards his friends with more public goods, which even non-supporters can benefit from in a diffuse way.

F) Rules preventing bet hedging would substantially narrow an elected official’s pool of supporters, by, say, 1/2. Since the elected official has fewer people to reward, he can reward them using private goods and more easily make policy choices that benefit his supporters alone. This situation engenders mercantilism, protectionism, and massive industrial subsidization. Not only do non-supporters not benefit, they are seriously harmed by the high price of goods and higher unemployment.

The result is that a leader is beholden to fewer individual interests, but is beholden more deeply. If you didn’t contribute to his campaign, you are left even more out in the cold.

The possible effects of illegal hedging are certainly worth exploring. I do not think it would be difficult (but it would be very costly) to set up elaborate legal/corporate entities to allow big players to hedge. This would create a deadweight loss that benefits only accountants and attorneys, and would be unavailable to all but the biggest and most powerful players who are willing to pay the hedging costs. I contend that this arrangement would make our society even more plutocratic than it already is.

So yeah, like I said, I disagree. :wink:

[sub]Honeymoon was sub-fucking-lime. Back in NY soon?[/sub]

Very interesting. I think you overestimate the breadth of a politician’s donor base in a world of bet-hedging – and, specifically, the extent to which the interests of bet-hedging donors (who are invariably, on the federal level, large corporate institutions) are addressed through public-minded policies. I also think your speculation about what would happen in a non-bet-hedging landscape is only one of a number of possible outcomes – sure, each institutional donor might pick a candidate and stick with him, halving the contributions of each side. Or institutional donors might play it safe and weigh the marginal value of their contributing to one side (especially in elections where the conclusion is not foregone) as less than the benefit that they could expect to get if their guy happens to win, and withdraw entirely. Similarly, competing candidates might be drawn together centripetally in order to maximize their appeal to all donors, if bet-hedging were prohibited, or they might seek to separate themselves and stake out newly distinct policy positions. There’s also the likelihood that bet-hedging as it currently exists is essentially a prisoners’ dilemma situation, where the status quo is sub-optimal both for the politicians (who have to spend all their damn time raising money – literally half their waking lives, on the national level) and for the donors (who are, after all, just trying to keep up with JonesCorp). Maybe nobody wants to spend (and raise) twice the money that’s otherwise “needed”; they just can’t withdraw from the system on an individual basis without substantially disadvantaging themselves.

It’s very possible, too, that bet-hedging would work best in the context of black box campaign finance reform (the subject of my first ever Straight Dope thread, back in March 2000!), in which all political contributions are made anonymously.

Regardless, I should e-mail you my paper on bet-hedging; I’m getting ready to send it out to get it published, and I’d love to get specific feedback from ya. And of course I’ll be back in NY soon! Your wife threatened to hunt me down and kill me otherwise.

I find this idea not only abhorrent morally,but pointless. We should be encouraging more speech, not controlling it.

IN any case, the idea that minority parties don’t have power is absurdf. They do, though ofetn in a very different way than you think.