Reform Campaign Finance and the Rest Will Follow

united states capitol building photo

Photo credit: VinothChandar/Creative Commons

If you could change only one law in America, what would it be? I know my answer: Campaign finance law. I would make every election publicly funded. I would make private or corporate campaign contributions illegal. The costs would be marginal to the taxpayer and I believe the benefits would be profound.As I watched President Obama's State of the Union address, I grew increasingly frustrated and inured. As the President waffled between positions, vacillated between stances, and toed the lines between progress and placation; it became clear to me that he, like all politicians, is simply a pawn in a bigger, more invisible game. A game whose currency is dollars and whose players are the captains of industry.

President Obama talked about health care and the environment. Consider for a moment that on these two issues, one deals with our survival as individuals, the other our survival as a species. Nothing could be more fundamental or important. No position, however inane, goes unsupported if it has money behind it. Even Obama, once clear on his point of view on the way forward on both, appeared beaten into submission as he carefully shot for the middle between support "clean coal" and more drilling in one breath, wind and solar in another. The reason for this, of course, is the crippling grasp of entrenched interest, whose stranglehold on our legislative process suffocates America. It is the elephant in every political chamber that everyone knows about but dare not point out.

Consider the companies that dominate our economy. Think of their size and their nimbleness. These are not organizations that welcome change. They are market leaders, and inherent in that dominant position is a desire to maintain it. This breeds a bias against progress—in the very institutions that control our politicians. No wonder we can't get anything done. If we want change, the only way to get it is to make politicians answer to those who want change: Us. Public campaign finance would fix a fundamental flaw in our system. Politicians should answer to the people. If people fund the politicians, then they will.

Imagine if President Obama, and every other politician, were free from the ever-present threat of being tossed out of office by the companies that fund them. Imagine that they were judged solely on their ability to represent the interests of their constituents. In this environment, leadership might, just might, emerge. Suddenly, a point of view would no longer be political suicide. Conflicting points of view would be debated without the polluting effect of money, and public discourse would experience a renaissance as voters began to feel that accountability rested with them once again.

In any complicated problem, it's best to find the most leveraged solution, that apex issue or action you can take that has a multiplier effect. I believe campaign finance reform is just that issue in American politics. Ironically, it means that the fastest way to a sensible climate change strategy and a reasonable health care system is not to focus on their respective debates, but change how we fund our policymakers. It means that campaign finance reform is the biggest environmental issue of our day.

That's what I would change. If only I were only King for a day.

Read more about politics:
State of the Union: Climate Change Takes A Back Seat
Obama's State of the Union: 80% of US Should Run on Clean Energy by 2035
Good Looks at SCOTUS, Campaign Finance, and the Climate Bill