One of the most significant issues facing our political system is the corruption introduced by the ever-increasing influx of money into it. This comes from a variety of sources, and there have literally been thousands of books written on the topic, and millions of web pages. (An Amazon.com search for books on the topic produced 3,948 results as of this writing. A Google search for “campaign finance reform papers” produced “about 63,500,000 results”.) We’ve heard discussion on the influence of SuperPACS. We’ve talked about the special interests. Lobbyists. (Even Jack Abramoff is warning about people like him. Ha!) Term limits. Congressional insider trading is a hot topic lately.
Here though is one idea you haven’t heard and that really needs to be implemented. Let me start first by posing the following. Picture the outrage that would swell if it was proposed that any government – city, county, parish, state, or federal – were to fund and/or conduct the election for the board of directors of the ACLU, for the United Auto Workers or for the American Family Association. Can you imagine? Would any of us agree that would be appropriate? While I can see that there would be a small handful who might, just because weneverhave true unanimity, I am confident that the majority would be so large as to be nearly complete.
Now, why then do we the people in the guise of our city, parish, county and state governments continue to fund and conduct the internal elections for the “two” major political parties in America – the Democrats and the Republicans? That is precisely what we are doing with every primary election that happens. When we go to the polls for a primary to select a candidate for one party to run against a candidate from another party in a general election, you are engaged in an internal decision-making process for that party.
The short version of the history of why this happens comes from trying to make sure that the party bosses of the past were not manipulating the voting machines to put their own people in place. (Sound familiar?) This may have been a laudable goal at the time. It may still be a laudable goal. However, it is still an inappropriate crossing of a line between government and a private organization. Further, it doesn’t appear to be working very well, does it? Does anyone really believe that they’re voting for a candidate rather than voting either against another candidate or voting for the least offensive candidate?
Worse though, government running of the primary process intrenches the political bosses in the seats of power. It helps to prevent the rise of third parties into the political field. It contributes to preventing non-party affiliated individuals from having a legitimate opportunity to be heard. It is only one factor, but it is one large factor.
It is also expensive! I have been looking for the actual data, and the states do not make this easy to find. I have not found the hard numbers that I wanted to present to you. Mostly what I find are oblique references that I won’t cite. I suspect that this is, in part, because most of these expenses are born at the local level and are not really compiled at the state level. In other words, no one is really tracking it. We track how much the candidates are spending. (That is a whole other topic!)
However, what I am finding is specific locations. From this we can extrapolate somewhat. We cannot get a specific number, and I will not even attempt to do so. I will let you make your own guess. For example, Woodbury County, Iowa recently cited the cost of the 2010 Gubernatorial election as $153,000. They also cited the cost of the 2008 presidential election as $251,802. These are not primaries, and these are not New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, or other major metropolitan areas where the expense is sure to be larger.
If the parties need to have a primary to choose their candidates, I understand that, and I certainly have no objection to that, other than the fact that I argue that it is time for them to cease to exist. However, we the people and our avatar, the government, must get out of the business of conducting these elections for them. It is an improper exercise of governmental power and influence on the behalf of particular, chosen individuals and institutions and it is an unacceptable expenditure of funds. If they need them, let them have them. Just let them fund them, and conduct them. Then, let the rest of us laugh at the mess they make of them. We will also learn a lot about how well they might actually be able to run the country by how well they run their primaries.
This seems to me to be an idea that from Tea Party to Occupy, we should all be able to get behind.