These days you often hear that our politics have become “monetized.” That with all the money pouring into elections, especially since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, government is being distorted in ways that work only for deep pocket special interests and not the interests of the American people generally.
Yes, that’s a negative. But perhaps we should also focus more on the upside. Focus on the way all this election spending helps give our moribund economy a positive jolt. From this perspective, the problem is not that too much money is fouling the system, but that too little is going toward buying public office.
Soaring spending on elections is in fact one of the economy’s major growth sectors. And while a lot of this spending gets no further than the sticky palms of a few contribution bundlers, a lot more tickles down to a fast expanding network of middle class and even poor staffers who do campaign field work, and have other fundraising, soliciting, technical, legal and communication employment.
Based on these profound insights, the question then becomes how to further grow election-based spending. A few obvious answers quickly come to mind.
First, of course, we could start at the top. Almost half of the $6.3 billion spent on electing people to office in 2012 went into the Obama-Romney campaigns. Presidential elections now take place every four years. With a simple constitutional amendment, however, we can have them every two years and double presidential election spending with all its attendant economic benefits.
And why not do this, after all? There would be no loss in the quality of governance from the White House from such a change. The last two years of a sitting president’s first term are totally geared to getting reelected. In the last two years of a second term a sitting president is a lame duck. We drop the last two years of each term and lose nothing of political consequence while gaining billions in economy-animating spending.
Competitive congressional races are now another spending cash cow. Candidates may now need to raise $19 million or more for a competitive Senate race and more than $9 million in a competitive race for a House seat. Again, just a small constitutional tweak that makes election for a House seat every year and a Senate seat every two years would double House election spending and triple (yes, triple!) spending on Senate races.
The economic boost here could be expanded even further by lowering the bar to get on the ballot in every state, thereby allowing anyone with a few extra bucks and some time on their hands to run for national office. This would confuse voters even more than they are presently confused and thus make even more races for Congress competitive.
Elections for national office are just the tip of this economy-enhancing iceberg. The Census bureau reported that in 2012 there are more than 89,000 local governments in this country — state, county, municipal, town and township, special and school districts. Within these local governments there are often a fair number of positions that are elective. No national constitution and relatively few state constitutional amendments would be needed to change the length of time between elections for most of these hundreds of thousands of elected offices. Reduce times between all these local races, the potential growth of overall campaign spending is mind boggling.
The flood of money that now goes into getting elected to so many public offices has soured many Americans on our politics. Do I have a solution for this sad political reality? No. All I’m saying is that since we’re stuck with political lemons, let’s make more economic lemonade. And since we don’t even have the best government money can buy, let’s spend some more and maybe its quality will improve.
Michael Silverstein’s newest book, available from Amazon. Is The Devil’s Dictionary Of Wall Street.