7 Ways to Detox US Politics

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You did your research. You weighed the big issues. You chose your candidate based on some combination of what’s good for your family, your country…and for comedy. Sucker. The campaigns don’t care about you. Your blue and red state votes were already counted on Day 1. In Econovation, I railed about the cartoonish amount of private cash it takes to get elected in the US. In this video, controversial Libertarian economist Peter Schiff adds another sad, but amusing twist: most of that cash was wasted on courting the disinterested, stupid, and misinformed. Did that sound harsh? Don’t worry. Unless this article appears in a “battleground state” during Toddlers & Tiaras, these heroes will never know it exists.

To take Peter Schiff’s argument a few steps further, our campaign financing system is eating our democracy from the inside, like Ebola. Today, I’d like to propose seven goals – and a simple strategy to fix it. I think it’s something everyone from Tea Partiers to 99%ers could rally around…or at least, sit in the park for. The future of our democracy might just depend on it.

Follow the Money


Normally, I write about innovation and entrepreneurship, but government is an important platform on which many innovations are built. Unfortunately, we have a defective platform. And, all the carpenters who could fix it are paid by someone else. As of November, this election was financed by $6 billion in private cash – with big chunks paid by rich old men with comb-overs. Who are these American heroes? Noble job creators? Cynical opportunists?  They’re typically companies and individuals who’ll get face-time and favors from politicians they purchased financed…while you’re home watching Ellen.

So where does all that money go? Most of it goes to advertising – with over 75% spent on old media (TV, radio, newspapers, telegraph). Not only that – most of the money is spent on the eight swing states with a total of 34 million registered voters, or 24.5 million who actually voted. That’s $245 per swing voter. Why not just send each one a check? Nooooo… Instead, the money is laundered through media, never to be seen again.

Romancing the Bone-headed

So who are these “undecided”? Are these the most diligent people on earth? Are they carefully sifting through those super-honest campaign ads before blessing Obama or Romney with their precious gift of vote? Let’s be honest, if you’re convinced to vote by a political commercial or mailing, you deserve whatever horrible government you get.

In fact, it’s more work to stay ignorant! Free information is everywhere. The internet – at home, at libraries, at schools, on phones – is packed with stories about the candidates and every major issue. The slightest movement on Facebook will expose you to some political news. Yet, the Battle for the Befuddled rages on. They are the belles of this ball.

We never stop lowering the bar for these indecisive ignoramuses. I have to show a photo ID to buy liquor, cigarettes, or lottery tickets. But when I went to vote, a mega-genarian lady asked only for my name and signature. She never looked up. She might not even have been alive. Yes, someday there will be better ways to vote, but is it really that burdensome to make sure citizens are fairly participating in our most precious civil right?

That’s not all. Millions are spent on “get out the vote” campaigns. Poor Puff Daddy, P-Diddy, Diddy, and Sean Jean  have to practically scare people to death before they’ll consider voting. Why are we so eager for the dunces to cast a ballot? On what basis will they be deciding? Eenie, meenie miney or moe…?

People in Afghanistan risk getting blown up to vote. Here, we have to beg numskulls to do it. When exactly did typing “abortion” into Google  or showing an ID become too much work? If it is, stay home, Citizen.

7 Ways to Fix the US Political Finance System

Raising billions to advertise to dummies spells doom for America. This dependence on cash is the single greatest threat to our democracy. Even good politicians are forced to chase cash from special interests. It’s the root cause of the financial crisis and terrible legislation like SOPA/PIPA. It also explains the disparity between what’s good for voters and what’s good for the real customers – campaign contributors. They’re the ones who get face to face meetings to bend policy their way, not voters. Plus, two years of every incumbent’s life is spent campaigning and begging for cash, instead of governing. How does that serve our democracy?

Campaign finance reform is the change we need. If the Occupy and Tea Party movements could agree on one major issue, this should be it. Here are some suggestions of what they might want to ask Santa for:

  1. No more private financing of elections of any kind, at any level. All campaigns should be publicly funded.
  2. To make up for less financing, media outlets must be mandated to cover elections – and debates as part of their broadcast license and right to make money in this country. (Like a tax paid with impartial media time. Americans deserve that. We already have equal time laws.)
  3. Pay politicians MORE in salary, but also in BONUSES. Pay them like executives to eliminate the need for them to take money on the side from special interests. This will also attract a higher caliber of individual. This works very well in Singapore, which has an incredibly effective government.
  4. For #3 to work, we must decide what objective metrics will determine good or bad performance. We should measure results and base their bonuses on these metrics. These measures and methodologies can be created. (Some examples: balanced budget, deficit reduction, private sector employment rate, efficient use of tax $’s, average post-graduation salaries, etc.)
  5. More political parties. Competition is good in business and it’s good in politics. We need to break the cabal of the two party system. We need strong alternative parties that represent other points of view. A competition of ideas will only lead to a better product. It might also move us towards a parliamentary-style system where you need coalitions to govern. This wouldn’t be a bad thing.
  6. No more career politicians. It’s public service, so we need term limits, not eternal fiefdoms. All politicians must return to the private sector after 6-12 years. No loitering.
  7. Create full transparency. For example, citizens should have access to the calendars and meetings of all politicians. This data can also be linked to their voting records to flag possible improprieties. We are already doing this with campaign donations, but we’re just scratching the surface.

A Simple Strategy

So how can we make voters into customers again?

  1. Commit to ruthlessly expelling all incumbents – Republicans, Democrats, everyone – until real finance reform is passed.  The message is simple: no one gets re-elected until reform happens.
  2. Every four years, organize online to pledge 5% of the popular vote to a rotating group of third parties (Libertarian, Green, etc.). That way, they can qualify for Federal matching funds, get on state ballots, and participate in national debates.
  3. Let’s leave those who don’t make an effort alone.  They need their sleep. When that alarm goes off, I’d rather have them learning to program in Objective C…than laboring to find a voting precinct.

It won’t be easy. There are powerful forces that stand to lose power in this scenario. It’s worth the fight. Otherwise, we’ve got a great head start at becoming a banana republic (think Venezuela, not sensible slacks).

(From Steve Faktor’s original article on Forbes.)

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Provocative predictions & prescriptions on where innovation, economics & culture will take us. Fearless. Funny.