Why Our Politics are Broken: Political Ad Money & How to Fix it

If this past month has shown us anything, it’s that the U.S. political climate is toxic, cancerous, deceitful, arrogant, and all around dysfunctional.

The result of this lunacy is that our nation’s debt is climbing, our infrastructure is crumbling, our job market is hurting, we have lost our world leader image, and our stock markets have been in stall mode for over a decade.

All of these things impact your bottom line. And if the debt ceiling debate didn’t raise your concern as a citizen of this country, not much will.

How did we get this way? Those who are Republicans weren’t genetically born as Democrat haters, and vice versa. Something must have happened along the way…

I’m not a Washington “insider”, so perhaps I’m not the most qualified person to write about how to fix our political climate. On the other hand, perhaps that makes me more qualified.

I have worked in political advertising in the U.S. – and doing so has given me some insight into how political campaigns are bought and sold (er, lost and won). I’ll share that now.

political advertising

Election Contribution Limits

The first thing to note is that there are really only two expenses to running a political campaign:

  1. Staff (we’ll roll travel/office into staff)
  2. Advertising

That’s it. Staff (usually underpaid for their efforts) are a small percentage of total expenses. The rest goes towards advertising to influence voters. The more advertising you can buy, the more you can persuade the voting public. The more persuasion, the better chance you win, particularly when you’re in a fairly well balanced dem/rep geography.

But it’s not just a campaign’s fundraising prowess that earns the dollars to buy the ads. There are many other players who are now also buying ads via candidate donations or directly.

Here’s a breakdown of all the players:

  • Individuals: Currently can give $2,500 maximum per election directly to a campaign. They can also give $30,800 to a national party per year and $10,000 to a state, local, and district committee per year, $5,000 to a PAC coordinated with a candidate or political party, and unlimited funds to independent expenditure only groups.
  • Federal Parties: Can give $5,000 to a candidate per election or $43,100 to a senate candidate.
  • State, Local, & District Parties: $5,000 to a candidate per election.
  • PAC (Political Action Committee): PAC’s can give $5,000 to a candidate per election or to another PAC, $15,000 to a national party, and unlimited funds to independent expenditure only groups.
  • Corporations: Can create a PAC or now fund independent expenditure only groups directly from their treasuries.

Independent Expenditure Money

When it comes to political ad dollars, it’s not so much about what you give. It’s about what you can spend. Party ‘committees’, 527 special interest groups, and PAC’s can all spend as much money as they’d like as “independent expenditures” – which means that the expense was not in coordination with a candidate, that candidate’s authorized committee, or a party directly.

The Rise of Super PAC’s

Citizens United Vs. the FEC, a landmark Supreme Court Case, made it legal for corporations and unions to spend from their general treasuries to finance independent expenditures. These ‘Independent Expenditure Only Committees” are unofficially dubbed “Super PAC’s” and they can raise and spend unlimited funds from individuals, corporations, unions, etc.

Super PAC’s are the hot new thing out there right now in politics. The most popular one at the moment is Stephen Colbert’s Colbert SuperPAC. Karl Rove’s American CrossRoads is another that has received a lot of press.

Unfortunately, there are few exceptions in any political election where those who do not have the most political ad money in their favor win. And most candidates tow the party line to receive as much ad money as possible, even if that means it goes against what is best for the country. That’s the sad truth. And it needs to be fixed.

How to Prevent Elections From Being Bought & Sold

I believe that each of the following three things would result in a more pure form of democracy that is represented by the citizens of this country.

1. Limit Contributions by Individuals to $100 Per Person

Individuals should only be allowed to directly support candidates only and at a maximum of $100 per year. It is ridiculous that each individuals can give $2,500 to a candidate in an election, $10,000 to a local party, $30,800 to a national party, or unlimited funds to an independent expenditure only group. These are not tax deductible donations. Who, but the very wealthiest, has that kind of money to give?

Level the playing field so each citizen has an equal opportunity to influence advertising messages in an election.

2. Eliminate all Independent Expenditure Contributions Altogether

I previously claimed that we should limit contributions to these groups political efforts to $100 per person. But now I think it should just be $0. Give the power back to the citizens to vote for those who stand for what they believe in.

These groups do nothing good for our democracy. The facts and figures that they cite in their ads are often out of context and deceiving and the portraits that they paint are manipulative at best. I don’t care if you are a labor union or an anti-tax billionaire, I don’t want to hear your biased manipulative messages anymore!

3. Break Up the Two Party Monopoly

Somehow, someway, the Republican/Democratic monopoly on our political system needs to be stopped. Regardless of the best interests of the country, candidates feel that they must tow the party line in order to keep receiving donations to fuel their job security.

We shouldn’t compartmentalize every issue. Why does democrat=anti-business, republican=pro-business, democrat=pro-choice, republican=pro-life, democrat=non-evangelical, republican=evangelical, democrat=pro-tax, republican=anti-tax? By forcing voters to choose one of these pre-stamped buckets, we have created the uncompromising political culture that we have today. Life is not, and running the country is certainly not that black and white. And being in favor of one party stance does not mean you’re in favor of another (or it shouldn’t, at least).

We all realize it, but nothing seemingly can be done to break it up (all of those elected are in either of the two parties in power, after all).

Eliminating the ability of parties to raise funds and independent expenditures to spend without limit to influence elections is a starting point.

What do you Think?

If you agree with these suggestions. Take whatever actions you can. Send this to your friends, your congressman or senator, and by all means don’t contribute money to shady independent expenditure groups!

What would you do to re-store credibility in American politics?

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