Monday, June 11, 2012

How To Get Money Out Of Politics

The billions of dollars spent on political campaigns is unsettling.

Not only are the amounts astronomical, but the majority of that cash is used, not to advertise one's own achievements and character, but to denigrate an opponent with out-of-context quotes or incredibly misleading, if not downright false, "facts."

We have no problems with campaigns spending money to crisscross the nation to shake hands, kiss babies and give stump speeches. We also have no problem with the use of new technologies (Facebook, Twitter, websites and blogs) that promote the candidate and their platform.  That’s campaigning at its core - promoting the candidate's abilities, accomplishments and character.

It’s the constant and involuntary assault of expensive political advertisements on TV that must go, and they will.

We don't need to rely on more government to fix this problem.  Supreme Court reversals or more “campaign finance reform” legislation are not the answer. We can’t restrict free speech. As uncomfortable as unlimited (but disclosed) political spending might make us, we can’t make exceptions to the FIRST amendment of our Constitution. We just can’t.

The power to change these tactics lies with the voters and the candidates themselves.

Voters will force this change because of two budding phenomenon:

Firstly, the days of sitting down and watching a TV program, and its accompanying ads, is dying rapidly. DVR’s, online archives, NetFlix, Hulu, iTunes, etc. are all taking over as the go to spots for entertainment. None of these business models have figured out how to incorporate ads without losing viewers – at least not yet. Therefore, as traditional advertisers know all too well, the cost effectiveness of political ads on TV will slowly erode. 

Secondly, voters are tired of the constant barrage of political ads during election season. It’s taken too long, but voters have come to realize that everything said in these ads is, at a minimum, highly misleading, and most likely a downright lie.  When was the last time you saw a political ad on TV and it actually informed your view of a candidate or issue?  Political ads have jumped the shark and voters know it.  There may even come a point in the not so distant future where running negative ads becomes a political liability. Producing and placing these political ads will be flushing money down the toilet.

Once these eventualities set in, it will be up to the candidates to abandon the negativity and run a more conventional campaign, connecting with the people, and promoting their solutions to the issues of the day without the constant need for fundraising activities. This approach might even allow a candidate to avail themselves of the option to run a publicly financed campaign, freeing them to focus on thought leadership instead of the constant search for more cash.

A key catalyst in this transformation could be a renewed focus on the televised debate. As we’ve seen from the Republican primary, there is a huge appetite from the voting public for debates. The major networks would fall over themselves to be able to produce and air the events, and they have the potential to be incredibly powerful tools for garnering votes – particularly for the most qualified candidates.

Would you watch a weekly hour-long debate between President Obama and Governor Romney where each candidate was given the same amount of airtime, were asked tough but fair questions, had a opportunity to directly respond to their opponents criticisms, and most importantly, were kept honest by the intelligence and integrity of an independent moderator?

Of course you would. What’s a better way to understand the true character and ability of a candidate - through intelligent debates, or from slimy political ads?

This system would fill the public space with accurate and useful information from which to make informed voting decisions, and will do so at a fraction of the amount currently spent on political campaigns. Who knows, if we cleaned up the political process, we might actually start to attract the best and most qualified candidates for office and not just the raging egomaniacs we get now.

Imagine if the President’s first term could actually be spent on Presidential activities rather than on re-election fundraising activities or if challengers didn't need to be independently wealthy, or backed by a network of independently wealthy individuals to be a viable candidate.

It’s a no-brainer...and therein lies the problem.

While politics is flush with cash, it’s short on brains.  We hope we're prescient, but we're not holding our breath.


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