« Kickstarting campaign finance reform

The biggest problem with politicians is that they’re human, which is to say they’re greedy, or “rationally self-interested.” This is more of a problem than when you or I are greedy, because we’re not elected officials expected to act in the public good. As a result, we get stuff like SOPA. Elected office is a great place to make more money, often in spite of your campaign promises.

We need to make integrity more attractive to politicians. Since capitalism is about designing a context that directs greedy behaviour towards a larger good, why not repurpose some of its better ideas here? Clearly the language politicians think in is money, so let’s start with that. If government is bought and paid for, we’re going to have to pony up some dollars so that we can do the buying.

Here’s the idea. For whatever it’s worth, I release it under the GPL:

With Kickstarter, if you believe in a business, you pledge money. Once enough money is pledged, everyone is charged. (It’s the same structure as Groupon, but used for good instead of evil.) The core idea is that once an event happens, the money is unlocked. With Kickstarter, the event is a total number of dollars pledged. For our purposes, the event could be something like a politician actually delivering on a campaign promise.

In practice, it would work out like this: A politician lists their core goals, and you can tick off the ones you like. Let’s say they’re saying four things you really agree with. You pledge $100 dollars. $20 goes to them off the bat, and each subsequent $20 is linked to a specific election goal. Each time they accomplish a promise, the money linked to that promise is released–to fund re-election or whatever it is that politicians spend money on.

This has a few interesting results:

  1. It aligns the interests of politicians with their constituents. They don’t have to worry about raising money from lobbyists to get re-elected, they just have to deliver on their campaign promises.
  2. It pushes us towards evidence based policy. If politicians want to get paid, they have to identify measurable goals. None of this “I’ll go to work for you!” It instead become “I’m going to delivery this outcome by this date.” This emphasizes the importance of measurement in governance.
  3. It encourages politicians to steal one another’s ideas. I wish there were a lot more of this. Smart ideas can come from anywhere. If politicians are in the evidence based mindset, and their opponent has a great idea that will be in everyone’s best interests, why not just steal it? Good ideas should thrive no matter who’s in charge.

This theme can be varied. For instance, during a campaign people could pledge $10/month so long as there are no attack ads. If a candidate gets too aggressive, they lose access to that revenue stream.

There was a brilliant move by the Obama campaign that I heard about through the grapevine. A system was set up to monitor the things being said against Obama by his critics. Every time an opponent referred to Obama negatively, Obama supporters automatically donated a few bucks into his campaign. Say $5 for calling him a communist, $10 for calling him a terrorist. This way, talking trash about your opponent just bolsters their financial position, so play nice. This kind of secondary/negative market would be easy to set up.

To ensure a level playing field, all donors could be capped at $500/year, and if you wanted to get really progressive about it, you could issue everyone a $500 tax refund to kick things off.

Clearly there will be ways to game this system, but for now it’s a thought experiment. I’m sure that with enough discussion we could map out avenues for exploitation and come up with ways to prevent them.

Also it’s entirely possible that what’s mapped out here is illegal in practice. That can be changed.

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