First, a bit of reminiscing. It's often noted that an elementary school student body president has almost no influence over anything, and the election process serves mostly as a learning exercise in basic democracy.

One learns such profound truths as:

  • Whoever gives the funniest speech will win the election.
  • Gerrymandering is real and very effective, though we never called it that; we called it "everyone always votes for someone of the same gender as themselves, and the candidates for class rep are five girls and one boy".
  • There's a theoretical limit of 5 posters per candidate, but it's obvious everyone flouts the rule and no one ever seems to get in trouble for it.
  • Friends do not have infinite patience for being asked to be campaign managers.

The five-poster rule is the one I want to focus on. It was pretty clear, even at the time, that this rule was meant to keep the election fair in terms of advertising. If arbitrary numbers of posters had been allowed, then the kid with money to blow on extra art supplies would essentially buy the election. In hindsight, the school probably also wanted to discourage us from spending too much time on manufacturing posters when there was homework to be done. Our time for campaigning was very brief: a week or two of poster exposure, whatever publicity you could generate at recess, one short official speech each, and that was it.

Every year there's a little checkbox on my tax return saying I can check it to donate $3 to an election fund, which has the ostensible purpose of helping to fund election campaigns so that candidates are less dependent on outside donors. I've always considered this useless because the ones with big donors will keep on getting lots of money anyway. However, a more powerful version of this concept could be effective.

Suppose there was a taxpayer-funded pool of money from which presidential candidates would be allocated money for their campaigns--always the same amount for each candidate. The catch is that this is the only money anyone is allowed to spend on their campaign. Every political ad you run, every pamphlet you had to pay for, etc., would all have to come from that allowance from the taxpayers.

If implemented well, this could have several benefits:

  • Large donors would have far less influence over an election.
  • Voters would not be inundated with paid advertisements, because each candidate would only want to pay for a few effective ones.
  • Lack of money would not pose a barrier to a less-wealthy candidate.
  • Third parties would get the same funding as main ones.

I must admit I'm not sure how you'd enforce this rule, or the best ways to balance it for primaries and other subtleties, or how to manage situations where people set themselves up as self-funded megaphones for people they support. But there are enough people watching opposing political parties for any sign of wrongdoing that a misbehaving candidate would soon be called out. I for one would be willing to pay some taxes into such a system, if it were effective enough to disarm the big donors.

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