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When most people hear that I’m a libertarian candidate, they immediately try to hide their laughter. “You? Running for U.S. Congress? You don’t have enough money!” they say. Indeed, I don’t. My opponent is so popular that she can just snap her fingers and get a million dollars. Of course, we all know what the problem is – there’s too much money in politics!
But I disagree. As a little league candidate, I’m beginning to think the problem is exactly the reverse: there isn’t enough money in politics.
After all, America already has stricter campaign spending laws than at any time in our history. Candidates are limited to how much they can raise. They can’t accept huge piles of cash – only small donations are allowed. My incumbent raised more than a million dollars entirely from small individual donations, and believe it or not, this is typical.
This might sound nice and folksy — small donations sound good! But here’s why it’s bad: if the government says that candidates are only allowed to raise money in small donations, then you need to know a lot of people in order to raise enough money to compete. The only people who are that well known are the incumbents; candidates who are already in office. Incumbents have no problem getting re-elected over and over again because they can draw on all the small donations from the large number of people who simply recognize their name.
Everybody knows the incumbent, but nobody knows the new guy on the block. Little league candidates like me are at a huge disadvantage. The only shot we have is if a rich person decides to give a giant sum of money to our campaign – but that’s currently illegal in America.
Wouldn’t it be nice if I knew a millionaire? Someone who could just give me a huge pile of cash in one large donation? Oh wait a second – I do know someone like that. In fact, I know more than a few rich libertarian millionaires. I’m friends with some of them, and they really want me to win! Unfortunately, because of all the campaign laws, they aren’t allowed to donate more than $2,600. That might seem like a lot of money, but it’s a drop in the bucket when it comes to politics. In a national race like mine, you need at least a million dollars.
But just imagine what would happen if a rich libertarian billionaire decided to stockpile my campaign vault (which is not so far fetched, it turns out). Suddenly I could buy political ads with libertarian messages. You’d see commercials saying, “End the Fed! Shrink the State! Keep Your Money!” I could buy libertarian mailers, and a campaign headquarters. Suddenly, a new message would be broadcast on the air waves loud and clear – a message of liberty. A message that might inspire more folks to get out and vote.
Of course, someone might object, “But, the incumbent could also have millionaires funding her campaign too! And she probably knows more millionaires than you do.”
Good for her. She can waste as much money as she wants spending money on ads against me. After all, once you get above a couple million dollars in advertising, there’s diminishing returns.
It’s kind of like watching Godzilla battle against Mothra. One might be bigger than the other, but it’s still going to be a pretty good match. Compare that to what happens today: one giant candidate, and the rest of us running, screaming for our lives.
More money would mean more advertising. And that would mean, a more informed public. There would probably be more commercials, more rallies, more debates, and more news stories. And more choices as well. 3rd party candidates could look like 1st party candidates, and voters might be inspired to run to the polls if the races were closer.
Yet, the argument remains, more money in politics might create more corruption. Just look at how much corruption there is today. The Goldman Sachs company, for example, can give millions (in small donations) to political candidates. Something just seems dirty, or wrong about that. But, that’s how it works today, in the most restrictive system we’ve ever had in the history of American politics. Politics will never be clean. It is dirty from the ground up. Taking money out of the system won’t fix it. In fact, it might make the problem even worse.
Case in point: look at the unions. When the government restricts the amount of money allowed in politics, then candidates are desperate to beg unions for support. Unions have the power to amass a fleet of supporters to vote, wave signs, or most importantly; make small donations. Those little union donations can really add up! Of course, unions will only support candidates who promise to give them special favors. With nowhere else to go, even libertarian candidates feel the temptation to suck up to the union armies.
If more money were allowed in politics, candidates might not care so much about union power. After all, if candidates could get their money from one rich billionaire, then who cares about a dinky little union?
If a paper candidate like me somehow made friends with a principled millionaire who wanted nothing more than to give piles of money to a libertarian, and asked for nothing in return except for more liberty across the board (and coincidentally, I do know people like this), than libertarians would finally have a shot. Amazing as it may sound, millionaires, billionaires – people with money are just regular folks too. Sure there will be some who are corrupt. But there will also be some who are honest. And today, it’s the honest campaigns that never get a chance at all.
When the government restricts the free market, monopolies tend to develop, and it’s exactly the same in the political realm. When the government restricts money in politics, it creates a political monopoly. Junior candidates like me have a barrier to entry in the political world, and the big Godzilla sized politicians just get bigger. Maybe that’s why we see the same politicians in office for 40 or 50 years in a row. They’re the only ones who know how to navigate all those campaign spending laws. Perhaps the solution then, is to just get rid of all campaign spending laws, and just let all the candidates grow as big as they can get. Then we might finally have an even match: a free market democracy.