Truth in campaigning: Is it too big an idea?
The beginning of a New Year should be a time of renewal, a time for new thinking about subjects old and new. Both of America’s major political parties would like to be perceived as the Party of Big Ideas; however, neither political party has had any big ideas since the Republican Contract for America of 1994.
After four decades of Democrat control of Congress, the Contract for America offered ten specific pieces of legislation that GOP pollster, Frank Lutz, had determined would be in line with the values and faith of the American people. Essentially, the Contract, if enacted into law, would have provided for: individual and business tax cuts; term limits for members of Congress, social security reform, tort reform and welfare reform.
The Democrats, led by Bill Clinton, defeated most of the legislation called for by the Contract. Ironically, the return of the Democrats to congressional power in November, 2006, was due, in large measure, because the Republicans, even though now in control of Congress and the White House, had not been able to deliver on the ideas and values they offered in the Contract for America.
Interestingly, back in 1994, immigration reform wasn’t mentioned in the Contract. But, by 2006, it had become an issue that divided many GOP House members from the GOP White House.
In 2008, the winning party will need some Big Ideas to excite voters. Republicans would be well advised to tout their yet-to-be enacted Big Ideas from 1994. Both parties need some Big Ideas for dealing with immigration reform. But here’s a Big Idea that might just work for whichever party might decide to embrace it:
By now, many Americans are aware that some of the 2006 congressional elections were “stolen” by huge infusions of cash from individual donors using the virtually unaccountable 527 organizations to fund TV, radio and print advertising chock full of lies, deceit and distortions.
So, how about legislation to punish, in a profound way, those political candidates who resort to media advertising filled with lies, deceit and distortions? Instead of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) levying ineffective monetary fines against candidates and/or 527s that employ deceptive media advertising, the FEC would levy fines in the form of votes subtracted from the offending candidate’s vote total.
Here’s a football analogy: Let’s say the National Football League decided to officiate games the way the FEC officiates congressional elections. That would mean that when infractions such as personal fouls, unnecessary roughness, roughing the passer, pass interference and roughing the kicker are observed by the referees, they simply make a note of the infractions. The game is allowed to continue as if no infractions have been committed. Months later, the referees file a report that says the winning team committed X-number of rules amounting to Y-number of yards of penalties. In other words, the penalties have no consequences. Oddly enough, this analogy parallels today’s Federal Election Commission (FEC) system.
But here’s an example of how my Big Idea would work in congressional elections: Let’s say Candidate A lost to Candidate B by 4,000 votes. But, after FEC review of the campaign advertisements of both candidates, the FEC finds the advertisements of Candidate B were based on falsehoods about Candidate A. Based on a schedule of vote fines set by Congress, Candidate B is fined 5,000 votes. So, as a consequence of the 5,000 vote fine assessed against Candidate B, the win by Candidate B is overturned and Candidate A is the winner by 1,000 votes.
Just imagine how such a system would revolutionize political campaigns. Instead of negative advertisements full of lies, deceit and deception, every candidate would have to make double sure that whatever they assert against their opponents is based on the truth. The truth? What a concept!
William Hamilton, a syndicated columnist, a featured commentator for USA Today and self-described “recovering lawyer and philosopher,” is the co-author of The Grand Conspiracy and The Panama Conspiracy – two thrillers about terrorism directed against the United States.
©2006. William Hamilton.