Bob Thomas: Let’s limit our campaign season to 90 days
Is this idea original? Not hardly. The Brits have been fiddling with it for decades. Yes, I can hear you asking why the hell should we copy the English in anything. Well, believe it or not, they do some things better than we do as far as elections go but not much.
One could research this subject for a month without examining everything. The Brits totally dissolve their parliament every five years. Everybody goes. I like that idea. We could dissolve our Congress every eight years and make them all run for reelection. Think of the money we’d save, and the money the promoters wouldn’t get.
However, with the Brits they slant everything in favor of incumbents because their campaign for re-election lasts only 17 days, which is hardly time enough for independent challengers to muster a good campaign, although with a strict limit on expenditures it isn’t as bad as it would seem. The only radio and TV commercials are those emanating from “official” sources, and every candidate supposedly gets the same exposure.
While I don’t like this, it is more honest than our dirty political packs.
Canada has 27 political parties, and each is allowed a specific number of broadcast minutes, and each is permitted limited expenditures, with no two parties getting the same amount of approved broadcast time or expenditures. And only $5,000 may be donated by any individuals and $1,000 by unions and corporations. That is a step in the right direction. There also are limits on the amounts each political party can spend.
For years campaign time limits floated between 30 and 55 days. They can’t make up their minds. But for the time being, the campaign limit for parliamentary elections is 66 days. Wow, what an improvement over our theoretical one-year limit, which isn’t enforced.
Both Britain and Canada have another screwy election quirk where candidates for Parliament do not have to live in the districts they hope to represent. In other words, I could live in London and run for a parliament seat in Bristol 200 miles away. This means that in a five-year parliamentary cycle you will actually see your MP once or twice, maybe. If we couldn’t corral our representatives here at home a couple of times a year we’d have a revolution.
Let’s face it, folks, we absolutely need limits on spending, prohibition of political action committees unless they have zero input with campaign advertisements, and a campaign time limit of 90 days. Our current primary campaign is an abomination. Most of us are sick of it. If candidates can’t get their story across in 90 days, they’re not well organized.
Now, the bug in the soup is our Constitution. Almost under any and all circumstances it guarantees freedom of speech. There has never been any article of law, anywhere, that is so loosely interpreted as is our freedom of speech, eliciting broad and ridiculous decisions by the Supreme Court. And that is the rub; those who profit from the obscene campaign circuses of the kind we are now witnessing, such as print, TV, radio and billboard, would use our First Amendment right of free speech to prevent us from ever establishing a shorter campaign season.
In other words, we may need a constitutional amendment – which is next to impossible to achieve in this day and age – that would specify comprehensive, ironclad rules on the conducting of election campaigns, and with specific time limits. The advantages of this would be far less money being spent, much fairer elections in terms of unknown candidates with less money having a better shot, and not so much of our time wasted being forced to listen to and watch endless exaggerated commercials.
Three months is time enough for any candidate to present his or her message using the communications media available today. There is no ethical or sensible reason for us citizens to be bombarded against our will, 24 hours a day for two years or more before election time, especially now that we have out-of-control super PACs, spending money like drunken barflies, spewing hate through rotten commercials.
• Bob Thomas is a retired high-tech industrialist who later served on the Carson City School Board, the state welfare board, the airport authority and as a state assemblyman. His website is http://www.worldclassentrepreneur.com.