My response

To the critics saying things like the below, I say, you may be right.  These self-financers have a luxury that isn’t available to most of the rest of this country.  Plastering faces on billboards, buying countless radio spots and TV ads shouldn’t replace real debate on the issues.  Elected officials shouldn’t be out of touch – they should know and understand the struggles real people are facing.  I think we can all agree on that.

The question is, how do we get there?  And I don’t think self-financing threatens democracy given the way campaign financing works now.  Under the current financing system in the US, self-financed candidates offer voters a louder voice in their government and make democracy work the way it was supposed to.  They answer to voters, not to donors.

If we’re going to talk in terms of “buying seats”, the truth is, somebody “buys” every seat.  Big oil, trial lawyers – you name the interest group.  And so given that’s the way our system works today, if it’s up to me, I’d rather a candidate buy her independence from big moneyed interests by financing the campaign herself and be accountable to voters.

10 Comments

  1. molly

    December 8, 2006 @ 12:55 pm

    1

    OK, so, do you think there should be a limit on the amount of money each candidate is allowed to spend? I mean overall. Like, Candidate A got $2M from the tobacco company, and Candidate B paid $2M out of his own pocket. Do you think that a cap would help assuage the public outcry re: all of these people being disgustingly wealthy and “elite”? If so, where would you set the limit?

  2. Greg

    December 8, 2006 @ 12:57 pm

    2

    I agree that self-financed candidates can often focus on satisfying the general voters needs, as opposed to others who must rely on pleasing specific sub-segments of the population (e.g., unions, theocrats, etc.). That is why I loved Arnold’s response on Meet the Press when asked to comment on the Weekly Standard’s comments that he is just “trying to please to the voters” – his response was “of course I’m trying to please the voters…I’m a public servant and they put me in office.”

    However, I have a large problem with the fact that self-financing makes participation in the national political process seem untenable to most Americans – causing them to be less interested in affairs and a generally lower quality of potential candidates. Knowing that so many prominent politicians came from money or made a fortune before running for office hinders the ability of others to commit themselves to a race where they will not be able to generate media exposure to win (despite perhaps a better message, character, experience).

    I would advocate a spin-off of Larry’s Tribe’s solution – reduce the amount of self-financing while simultaneously make all other donations anonymous (and enforce appropriately). This will limit any quid pro quo, and allow more open discussion of real issues. Any thoughts on this Cyberoneselffinanced – or are you too busy reading that it’s 21 degrees outside and feels like 4? Hehe.

  3. thunderhawk

    December 8, 2006 @ 5:16 pm

    3

    Let’s take a look at **performance**. My hunch is that selffinanced public officials are simply more effective public administrators than the average. Consider Bloomberg, as well as Corzine. So this raises the stakes for people who don’t agree with the politics of such candidates, as their causes will be set back further by 4 years of Corzine than four years of someone else

  4. Andrei

    December 8, 2006 @ 6:05 pm

    4

    I hate the pejorative phrase ‘big oil’. Would you prefer that the nation was full of little oil companies without the capital to finance exploration or the robust infrastructure to keep gasoline supplied nationwide after an event like Katrina? I hate the idea of lobbyists, but when derilects in congress start talking about windfall taxes against “big oil,” you can’t blame oil companies for doing what it takes to try and keep these people in check.

    Wait, what were you talking about? Something about self-financed politicians. I’m all for it. Rich, successful people tend to be smarter and better at making things work than people without lots of money. Unless they inherit it like Ned Lamont. Then their attempts to self-finance their own campaign just amount to a tax on the stupid which I am all for as well.

  5. Brandi

    December 9, 2006 @ 1:28 am

    5

    “…a tax on the stupid…” Hilarious.

    Not only the rich self-finance. I have read stories of honorable men and women that get loan after loan and fight the good fight until the money runs out. (You can only refinance your mortgage so many times ya know.)

    Sure, we like to root for the underdog (in this case the underfinanced) but more in spirit than with our wallets. Basically we say:

    “If you are destined to fail due to a lack of money then donating money to your campaign is essentially a waste – therefore I will not do it – which in turn helps ensure your lack of money.”

    Lather, rinse, repeat and another do-gooder bites the dust. It doesn’t mean they weren’t a good candidate. It just means they could not afford to reach enough people to make a difference.

  6. Heather Souder

    December 9, 2006 @ 4:37 pm

    6

    So, at first I was super persuaded and all about the self-financed candidate as “the poor little rich man.” But then I realized that Ms Hubert’s arguments rest on the most pessimistic view of the current system and the most optimistic view of the self financed candidate as “accountable to voters and not to donors.” Given the fact that EVERYONE, self financed or otherwise, has to be elected, then all successful candidates for public office are at least theoretically accountable to the voters. Assuming that baseline, the real question is do we prefer a candidate that is accountable to the donors [a group that apparently is synonomous with big bad corporations and the devil] or to no one but himself. I’m inclined to go with the donors because at some level, I believe in the rosy picture painted by the supreme court when it held that campaign contributions are protected form of free speech. Yes, there is too much influence given to super large donors, but many regular people contribute to campaigns because the candidate is someone they believe in to protect their interests. And that is important. So, final score:

    Traditional Candidates= voters + pipe dream accoutability exerted through individual donations by committed citizens

    Self Financed candidates= voters + wealth induced self aggrandizement and belief that they know better than everyone donating to the other candidates

    I go with traditional candidates, yay for the pipe dream!

  7. Wataboutya

    December 9, 2006 @ 6:46 pm

    7

    I think that success breeds success. The cream rises to the top and so forth. You want successful people to run the country. Successful people are usualy the ones ( not always, but usually) with the financial capital. I would argue that it is a good sign to see successful people who have the ability to finance their own campaigns caring enough to give up other lucrative opportunities to offer their (proven) skill as service to the greater public good.

  8. Amit

    December 9, 2006 @ 11:10 pm

    8

    I don’t think the people with the most money are necessarily the best people to be running our country. There are plenty of people who choose a less lucrative path for noble reasons. In fact, it is those very people that I want in office. So how do we empower those individuals? Maybe the government creates a channel that allocates candidates a certain amount of advertising. Maybe we cap the funds to be applied to campaigns. I think there are a number of solutions out there that would encourage the right behavior. Ultimately though, it requires those in office to push legislation favoring this type of regulation. Rather than debating the merits of self-financed candidates, I think a more useful discussion would be around the steps that would need to be taken to create our desired changes.

  9. Aarthi

    December 19, 2006 @ 5:17 pm

    9

    I agree that the underlying problem is campaign finance reform.

    If there is one thing a self-financed candidate provides in terms of a representative advantage, it is more TIME to spend actually doing his/her job once in office. The amount of time representatives in Congress spend on fundraising and campaigning boggles my mind and angers me. They make incredibly good salaries for how little time they actually have to spend doing their jobs. The other point I wanted to make: Jon Corzine was an incredibly good, progressive senator, but I’m not sure how much that was tied to his having been self-financed. We’re in an era where incredibly wealthy individuals, such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, are making socially responsible, generous and smart decisions about what to do with their wealth. Perhaps there’s been a culture shift, but I don’t think we can rely on it. For the most part, I think our society would be stronger if it was structured for these positive outcomes rather than simply benefiting from them by luck/trend.

    P.S. Nice podcast. Now when we miss you, we can just play it on our iPods.

  10. Brian Hanf

    February 7, 2007 @ 5:28 pm

    10

    Well some of the current crop of self funded candidates come to us because of the campaign finance reform from the Nixon Era.

    Before about 1973 anyone could donate any amount to a campaign. In 1974 or so that changed.
    So before 1973 a few rich folks could fund an underdog, but very good, candidate. Now those with money to advance there political or social causes need to run for office.

    I would like to see us go back to that, with current or even stricter reporting requirements. So a good candidate could raise the funds needed from a few well healed benefactors. The disclosure would tell you who those people were. This would greatly reduce the need for campaigns to raise PAC (moneyed interest) money.

    You might want to talk about why PAC money is so valued to politicians not self financed.