29 January 2010


In his State of the Union speech Barack Obama took the unprecedented step of criticizing a Supreme Court decision in front of the congress and country. That was an outrageous breach of etiquette and furthermore much of his statement was factually incorrect. The Supreme Court lifted restrictions on domestic corporate campaign contributions, not foreign contributions, which is prohibited by another law. Having once been subject to prosecutorial persecution on this issue myself, I believe we should get rid of most if not all campaign finance restrictions, provided there is full transparency on the record as to the source of all contributions. Donations to parties in particular should not be limited as they do not accrue to any single individual.

This is not because I look favorably on the vast amount of money going into political campaigns but because I think that finance reform is futile, and the wrong approach to a larger problem. What we really need is election reform. Currently we are subject to a virtually constant campaign. Elected officials spend an inordinate amount of time fundraising. John F. Kennedy did not even announce for President until January of 1960. Today the presidential campaign is ongoing, almost from the moment an election ends, even though the next election is years into the future. All other elected officials or potential candidates must be continuously preoccupied with fundraising.

So what is to be done to reform this system? I believe the answer lies in restricting the time period during which campaigning can be conducted. In Britain once elections are announced it is only a matter of several weeks before the election, not an endless number of months, as happens here. If the time frame for an election is limited, far less resources are required to seek office. With a shorter designated campaign window we would also not be subject to endless campaign solicitations and commercials. If both parties could agree on a time frame for campaigns the public interest would be far better served. An election campaign season should be measured in weeks, not months or even years. This would work for most elective offices. For the presidency the whole nominating procedure needs to be reformed, but that is a subject for another piece.

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