Thursday, October 9, 2008

Turn the Bailout Shit into Campaign Reform Salad

Could the blatant greed-a-thon of the Wall Street "bailout" finally spur the switch to fully public campaign financing?

Gregg Easterbrook reveals how giveaways to special interest groups force taxpayers to fund those interests' campaign donations to politicians. So we already have indirect public financing of campaigns, only at far, far greater cost than if we just directly funded campaigns.

Why do members of the national legislature give away your money as fast as it can be borrowed? Because they want campaign donations. Polls show Americans don't like the idea of public funding for House and Senate elections, because it seems like a giveaway. But the public already funds congressional elections, just in an incredibly overpriced, inefficient way.

Members of the House and Senate give away billions of dollars in subsidies and tax breaks to special-interest groups, in order to get back thousands of dollars in campaign donations. The $150 billion or so in sweetheart handouts in the bailout legislation will probably result in several million additional dollars given to House and Senate members as campaign donations. It would be far, far cheaper for taxpayers just to fund congressional campaigns!

Suppose the public funded each House race at $1 million (435 races every second year) split between the parties, and each Senate race at $5 million split (roughly 34 races every second year), then banned campaign contributions. (Skip whether the Supreme Court would allow the latter, this is a thought experiment.) The cost would be about $600 million every second year, when there are national elections. That's peanuts compared to the amounts House and Senate incumbents give away to PAC-backed lobbies in order to inspire campaign donations. Federal financing of House and Senate races would save the public tens, if not hundreds, of billions of dollars.

Read the whole thing.

Cross-posted at They Gave Us A Republic ....