When was the last time you heard someone say, “Wow, I can’t wait to see another campaign ad on TV?”

Yet in 2020, candidates spent about $14 billion on their campaigns. Let’s begin by defining campaign financing that is being practiced today.

* Communication Costs: This category applies primarily to unions, trade groups and other member organizations who expressly advocate the election or defeat of a federal candidate.

* Independent Expenditure, aka “Dark Money”: This is money spent on political advertising in support of or against a particular candidate from outside a candidate’s election organization. Generally, there is no limit placed on independent expenditures.

* Soft Money: This is an unlimited amount of money given to a political party from any source, including individuals, corporations and unions.

* Political Action Committees: These are administered by corporations, labor unions, membership organizations or trade associations. There are two types of committees: those that solicit contributions from individuals inside the organization, and those that solicit from the general public.

* Super PACs: Groups who raise unlimited sums of money from any source and then spend unlimited sums for or against political candidates.

*Hard Money: Money given directly to a political candidate by an individual.

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) is a federal regulatory agency authorized to “disclose campaign finance information” and “enforce the provisions of the law, such as limits and prohibitions on contributions.” Realistically, however, they cannot accomplish either mission given the “unlimited” and “undisclosed” elements contained in campaign finance laws.

This entire campaign finance mess can be cleaned up with one, simple, 300-word, eight-paragraph, one-page law. The law should say:

Campaign financing for all federal candidates will consist of the voter who is geographically associated with the candidate. For example, any registered voter in the U.S. may donate to a presidential candidate; any registered voter in a state may contribute to their U.S. senatorial candidates; and any registered voter in a congressional district may contribute to a House of Representative contest.

Why does a contributor need to be a registered voter? A successful democracy provides rights and privileges equally to every citizen. But along with those cherished rights and privileges come responsibilities.

Be proud to be a citizen. At age 18, register to vote. Use your freedom of speech to verbally support your candidates and/or make a campaign contribution. Vote in every election. About 100 million eligible voters did not vote in the 2016 election.

The law would go on as follows: The amount that can be contributed by any single registered voter to any single candidate cannot exceed $1,000. This limit also applies to the candidates themselves.

The candidates will scream, “But I cannot campaign on that small amount of money.” Yes, you can. Every candidate will be under the same restrictions. For the first time, the contribution playing field will be leveled.

Further:

* Anyone found to have contributed more than $1,000 to a single candidate will be guilty of a federal offense and subject to a fine of $25,000 each offense.

* Every contribution must contain the Social Security number of the contributor, and each candidate must keep scrupulous records of every contribution that can be accessed, sorted and reviewed by both name and SSN.

* Concurrently, every federal candidate must scrupulously and continuously account for every campaign expenditure.

* For every national election, the FEC will assign auditors to operate in all 435 Congressional districts and will have open access to every candidate’s campaign finance records. The FEC auditors operating in each Congressional district will also audit senatorial and presidential campaigns. FEC auditors’ objective is aligning overall contributions to expenditures as well as seeking out contributors sending more than $1,000 to a particular candidate.

* During each calendar year of a national election, the FEC will create some number of panels consisting of five retired federal judges for each panel. All accounting irregularities will be immediately referred to a FEC panel of judges. If the panel finds conclusive evidence of gross campaign finance irregularities, the candidate is subject to being disqualified.

* The Democrat and Republican National Committees will not distribute any funds to any candidates.

During the 2020 primary elections, Sen. Bernie Sanders raised $34.5 million from an average donation of $18.53 in the fourth quarter, 2019. Yes, small donations from dedicated voters can add up to enough money.

Voter fraud, voter apathy and too much money are threatening our democracy. This can and must get fixed with election and campaign finance reform laws.

 

(5) comments

Jim Hart

As usual, Covault is treating a governmental function in overly simplistic terms and is offering a solution to a problem that he believe can always be solved with a simple one page legisilative bill. And, as usual, he is wrong.

He is wrong on the first count by ignoring the 1976 landmark Supreme Court decision in Buckley v. Valeo wherein the Court ruled that campaign contributions were a matter of freedom of speech and therefore a right for all to enjoy, not just registered voters. Strike one on his first point. Also along these lines, Covault's bill would be unconstitutional by limiting how a person can spend his or her own money. Strike two. As to any limits on contributions by individuals other than a candidate, there are already limits. Currently, an individual is limited to contributions of $2,500 per election (a primary and a general election are two separate elections). And there are already criminal and civil penalties on violations of the Federal Campaign Act. Any time an individual makes a contribution, that person's name, address and contact information must be provided to the campaign which is then reported regularly to the Federal Elections Commission, Campaigns must report semi-annually in a year where no election is held, and quarterly and even more often during an election year. All contributions and expenditures must be recorded and accounted for, to the penny. Covault wants this done, but it is already being done. The FEC already regularly issues citations and fines to campaigns for any violation that occurs in any way. And yes, people have gone to jail for gross violations of the campaign laws. Strike three. Your OUT!

I know Covault seems to have to answers to all our problems, but it is clear he doesn't bother to check his facts as to what is already being done. I could go on, but this is not a tope that holds much public interest.

Conrad Meyer

Jim Hart, thank you for taking the time to shed more light on this issue from a different angle. Even though it is the angle from DC and comes across as a bit snarky, sorry to say. I have done more reading on this topic of late as I believe we spend altogether too much money on elections in this country. The Brennan Center (a liberal progressive think tank) has a current article on this topic that was interesting to read and contradicts some of your points. I figured the Brennan Center was liberal enough to satisfy the libbies that post here. The link is: https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/analysis-opinion/campaign-finance-victories-2020-elections The article says that $14,000,000,000 was spent on the 2020 federal elections alone. Yes, that is $14 billion that could have been used for far better purposes in my humble opinion. Add to that another $1,900,000,000 for the state elections.

Jim, you criticized the General, but you did not offer any solutions of your own. That suggests to me that "everything is fine, please don't fix it". I beg to differ with your last sentence. I believe this topic has much more public interest than you think. I can imagine a 2022 election with far fewer radio and tv ads, fewer phone calls, fewer social media interruptions, and on and on and on. I hope the next Congress will continue the work on campaign finance reform as I think the electorate has had about enough.

ken leary

The General does not mention Citizens United, and the punitive enforcement mentioned only includes individual donors. Is he saying here that no money should come from FAANG (facebook, amazon, etc.), the defense industries, or finance? In other words is the General saying we should curtail the ability of the plutocrats to buy election results?

Barbara Misiaszek

All you have to do is get your proposed law to pass the scrutiny of our Supreme Court which has ruled money is speech under our 1st Amendment. Good luck with that.

John Misiaszek

Jim Tomashoff

I, much to my shock, largely agree with the General on this one. But John is also absolutely correct. First thing we should do, draft a Constitutional Amendment that reverses Citizens United. Second, require broadcasters to significantly lower the costs for airing campaign ads. That is the single largest cost-driver of election campaigning. Broadcasters must have a Federal License to broadcast, that can be an imposed requirement for a such a license.

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