Monday, October 5, 2015

How Expensive is Overturning Citizens United, Anyway? (Part 4 of 13)


(Note: This is the fourth of a series of posts dealing with Bernie Sanders's platform. For the first installment, go here. Part 2 Part 3 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7)

I saw this posted on Twitter the other day, and I think it's worth taking a second look at, because it demonstrates a remarkable lack of understanding of Bernie Sanders's platform. Senator Sanders makes it very clear how we will pay for everything that he proposes, but understanding the nuance of this requires first that I disabuse you of a common misconception.

There are many in this country who decry government spending as if the government is incapable of doing anything well. But the critical issue of our times, as Robert Reich eloquently explains on a regular basis, is not how big government is. The critical issue of our times (and Bernie Sanders, more than any other Presidential candidate, understands this) is who government is working for. Whether we're talking about spending in the private sector or spending by the government, at the end of the day, everything that is spent in our economy counts as a cost for America. If Wal-Mart spends $1,000,000 improving the efficiency of the intersections near its stores, it has the same effect on our economy as if the state, local, or federal government spends $1,000,000 on an identical project.

So, with that in mind, how does America pay for Overturning Citizens United, as described in the flyer pictured above? Let's take a look:


Okay, so first things first: it's important to note that this particular prong of Senator Sanders's platform doesn't actually have any direct costs for the government. But realistically, this sort of proposal involves more than just getting dark money out of politics. The idea is to put the people back in charge of the political process. So what we're really looking at is more than just overturning Citizens United. What we're really looking at is publicly funded elections.

Public funding of elections has been a hot-button topic at least since 2014 when Lawrence Lessig founded the Mayday PAC to support congressional candidates who were committed to reforming the campaign finance system in the Unites States. What we have now, with private financing of elections, is a system designed for corruption. Every donation a political candidate receives creates a direct obligation, whether real or perceived, to return the favor with preferential treatment. Private financing is a serious problem, because ninety percent of key campaign donors are white.

In 2012, federal elections cost a total of $6.3 billion, between congressional and presidential races. This represents a nineteen percent increase from the previous presidential election, and a 104% increase from 2000. But switching to a public financing system could actually save the United States money on elections. Our current system, in 2012, cost $20.06 per person in the United States. Wisconsin's public financing system, as an example, costs between $1 and $3 per person.

All told, that would cost us about $1 billion. That's less than the federal government spent in 2013 for the Corporation for National and Community Service. All this while saving the entire economy as much as $5 billion in wasteful private spending.

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