A couple of months ago, Mayday.us launched a big crowdfunding push to raise a crapton of money to form their own Super PAC, meant to fund and support candidates who would run on campaign platforms of reducing the influence of Super PAC money in elections. The overall goal, reduce corruption in federal politics, is a great agenda, but a SuperPAC built around limiting how much money people can spend in elections isn’t actually solving problems with American democracy.
Here’s the issue with trying to fund a Congress that will pass laws on campaign finance, it’s been done. We’ve had a variety of major laws passed on the issue, then they got ruled unconstitutional. Not that that’s really a big deal, seeing as how elected officials seemed to be getting a lot of campaign money even with “campaign finance reform” laws on the books. The real problem with claiming the problem with politics is the money is that it implies there’s some secret auctioneer in a dark room taking bids on various districts. That’s not really a claim even the most cynical about corruption in politics make.
So, since elections aren’t being sold outright, it begs the question of just what the campaign money is actually buying. Now we get to the campaign ads. Have you seen that crap? There are effectively 2 of these ads: 1) “Candidate A says they support good things, but they’re really Satan! (Paid for by people who want to elect Candidate B and/or hate Candidate A’s entire political affiliation.)” and 2) “Vote for Candidate A, and they’ll fix everything that’s wrong with <insert level of government they’re running for here>. (Paid for by people who want to elect Candidate A.)” Oh sure, the candidates run a few type 2 ads themselves, with the disclaimer about how they approve of all the glowing things being said about them, but it’s still a type 2 ad.
Corruption isn’t just about money
Even if you did get money out of campaigns, that’s hardly the only form of corruption out there. There’s also jobs, jobs, and jobs. Corruption apparently gets along just fine without cash. It’s time we’re honest with ourselves about that and start focusing on the real problem. And that problem isn’t in DC, or running for office. The problem is the people participating in the democratic process.
It’s the voters, (we’re) stupid
If these ads are what’s making and breaking elections, I’ve got sad news for the people trying to reduce undue influence in politics, the problem isn’t that campaigns and their affiliates can afford to run this crap, it’s the voters. Theoretically, in any electoral system in a country with a well-educated populace, this crap wouldn’t shift the needle. However, TVs all over the country are flooded with these ads precisely because they work, and that’s the problem that needs fixing, not where people are finding the money to buy these ads. People worry about money having an undue influence on elections, but here’s the thing, voter’s minds are pretty much already made up on who they would vote for. What’s still left to be determined is if they’re going to vote at all.
The point of these ads isn’t to change anybody’s minds on who to vote for, it’s to get them pissed off over the idea that the “Wrong Candidate” could win, just see the type 1 ads listing all the horrible things the “Wrong Candidate” has done or will do if elected. Look at the commentary on the candidates in the race of your choosing. Minds are made up, and the only “undecided voters” out there are the ones debating taking the time out of their day to go bother voting at all.
Election campaigns aren’t about convincing people to vote for a particular candidate, they’re about “getting out the base”. Particularly, getting out the base lest the “Wrong Candidate” get elected and lead the nation into a horrific apocalypse from which the blessed “Correct Candidate” could never recover. Don’t believe me? Look at the Republican primaries from the 2012 elections where there affirmations all around that at least they were all better than the Democrats and that no matter who won the nomination everyone would work together to fight the Democrats. The voting public has eaten this up to the point that they’re vote is driven either by helped the “Correct Candidate” win and the “Wrong Candidate” lose.
Even the people who say they’re independent or are affiliated with a lower-tier party (like me) still have teams and we still vote for them. It affects how we think about politics. This team loyalty means rationalize our support and opposition based on who’s likely to score Whose Line Is It Anyway-style “points”. In short, we don’t actually care about the issues, just about sticking to the “Wrong Party” and supporting the “Correct Party“. This isn’t a “too much money in politics” problem, it’s not even a corruption in government problem. It’s a human psychology problem, and those can’t be fixed with laws or other political measures, although it does seem like those political measures can certainly capitalize on our political craziness.
Locking in the vote
Since we tend to just blindly vote for our “people” no matter what, politicians have decided to capitalize on that when drawing up voting districts, basically creating voting maps to ensure at least 10 years of incumbency for whoever was in power when they were made. Thanks to gerrymandering, the American voting public only has a to worry about a handful of contested races every election, everything else stays firmly in the power of the proper “team” for that district. Want to change the make-up in Congress, stage a miraculous insurgency campaign that takes control of state legislatures all over the country from whoever happens to be in power at the end of a decade so you can give your “team” steady wins for about the next 10 years.
If this was anything other than elections, there would be outrage over this crap. We’d be furious at the lock and be demanding more fairness and choice. But, because we’re talking about politics, we don’t care. Are we really care about is finding some way to screw the “Wrong Party“. Let’s just call this what it is, electoral monopolies in every district, along with party lock-in for nearly every seat in Congress. If someone pulled this sort of crap with anything that you could actually buy, we’d demand justice.
About here is the point where it would make sense to say that we could be that justice, change the course of history, and a lot of other essentially synonymous nonsense. But here’s the thing, we’ve already screwed ourselves beyond the point of fixing. All we can really hope for right now is to maybe fix our kids. I’m not sure how, because I really know is how to vote for the team I’m on, the same as everyone else. Personally, I think the best advice we could ever offer future generations on running America is “Don’t ever do what we did, because we were really f***ing stupid.”