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How to start solving the problem of money in politics

The key is to find a good-government plan that should appeal across the aisle.

REUTERS/Pilar Olivares

In a recent article by Eric Black, he talks about the migration of donors from President Barack Obama to possible presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. He ends with a weary observation:

In the corrupt world of big-time fund-raising the help of Priorities USA will bring plenty of potential conflicts of interest between the fund-raisers, donors and lobbyists.

I think there is a lot of disappointment on the left with how much money has flowed through the Obama presidency. And I don’t think fans of good government are at all pleased with how easy it is for businesses to influence how the rules are made. I’d like to offer some suggestions on how to do a better job of picking a presidential candidate to do some actual cleaning. 

Pick bipartisan rules

The first step is to pick out some simple, bipartisan good-government regulations.  Some suggestions:

  • One of the most effective ideas I’ve read is found here from Glenn Reynolds.  The basic idea is that government employees in policy positions would face additional taxes on earnings that are higher than what they earned while in government employ. The idea is to blunt the edge that lobbying groups and companies can gain by buying influence.
  • Perhaps there should be a rule where candidates for high office (House of Representatives, Senate, president and vice President) must make their taxes public each year. And maybe for some period prior to candidacy, like five or 10 years. We don’t elect people so that they can become rich in office. Let’s see what money they’re receiving.
  • There was some embarrassment recently when we learned that Obama’s nominee for ambassador to Norway knows next to nothing of the country. It seems he was picked more as a reward for fund-raising than for talent. This is a bipartisan tradition and it should be stopped. Maybe we’d be better off if the State Department sent annual lists of people who were qualified to be ambassadors.
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These strike me as nonpartisan or at least not of any obvious partisan advantage over the long term. Maybe they don’t appeal to you, or you have different ideas. It almost doesn’t matter what is put out there as long as it’s a fairly straightforward, nonpartisan, ‘good government’ idea. Ideally, there would be at least three or four good bills put forth.  That’s step two.

Put them on record

Step three is the big one. Every presidential candidate should be on record regarding each plan. If it’s someone like Elizabeth Warren or Rand Paul, then we’ll have their votes. If it’s someone like Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush, then we need to make sure they’re asked and interviewed until we know where they stand. The best way to find someone who won’t use the presidency as a cash register is to find someone who will bind their own hands before they get there.

Yes, I can hear people out there muttering about Citizens United. I don’t think that the Citizens United decision has had much effect on letting big money into politics. Or in other words, people like Karl Rove would still be raising and using large amounts of money even if the Supreme Court had ruled the other way. In any case, the issue is contentious and those on the right don’t trust those on the left here. If you won’t act without overturning Citizens United, then you simply won’t be acting. 

The key is to find a plan that should appeal across the aisle. Candidates shouldn’t be able to dodge by saying that any such bill would only help the opposition. Good government measures are supported by people of all political stripes, and it shouldn’t be too hard to craft ways to fix things. 

Peder DeFor, of Minneapolis, writes the blog Peder D4. This commentary originally appeared on the blog.


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