Could we solve the problem of money in US politics with… more money? I give you the #MegaPAC

I have a fairly simple idea. I spent the entirety of one subway ride thinking about it, and so there may be a few holes. Someone may have already had this idea (I know you will tell me very soon.) But I think the basic principle is sound.

I call it the Mega PAC.

One fabulously rich person (or a gaggle of them) would put X million dollars into a trust that expires November 9th. X would have to be very large. Probably several hundred million.

The rules would be simple. You could choose a funding cap for all candidates, x, which is much, much smaller than X. Say, $100 million. Plenty of money for a modest number of attack ads, since the parties must have a little fun.

The key: If any one candidate’s super PACs raised more than x, then the trust would automatically release an equivalent amount of funds to the opponent’s super PACs. The trust would be ready to hurl all its money if it must.

Now, imagine yourself the eccentric millionaire thinking of giving $5 million to your favorite in the race. You could still buy a little price and influence, but you would pay knowing that it would simply fuel your opponent’s campaign. I’m guessing you just use the money instead for that indoor 100,000 gallon scuba diving tank you always wanted.

The game theorists could improve the mechanism, no doubt. But I think this could work.

Now, if only there had been a sudden explosion young and idealistic of multi-millionaires this week. Oh wait.

19 thoughts on “Could we solve the problem of money in US politics with… more money? I give you the #MegaPAC

  1. Why is it called Mongo? According to Urban Dictionary, mongo is a derogatory word for someone suffering from Down Syndrome.

    Good idea though. I would contribute.

  2. GREAT idea. It follows a poorly developed “bachelor party theory of buying shots” …developed on a post-bachelor-party-hangover car ride, so it, similarly, may have holes.

    The theory goes that if the bachelor wants to remember the evening without a massive headache or copious puking, he should buy a round of shots for the whole party every time one of his partiers tries to buy him a shot. Eventually the partiers quit buying the bachelor shots because, they themselves are being punished for the actions of one.

    Your concept is an extraordinary variation:

    Instead of punishing everyone involved for the actions of one directly, you would benefit the opponent(s) — effectively punishing (or simply negating) the actions of the original actor.

    LOVE it.

    This is the kind of thinking this field needs. Campaign finance reform advocates have been defining insanity for 30 years.

  3. hahaha, GREAT idea! I’m also on board with Matt’s MAD PAC naming scheme. Now all you have to do is start dropping thinly veiled hints more directly at the US’s newest millionaires…

  4. The one issue I have with the way you’ve described this is that it would require “one fabulously rich person (or a gaggle of them)”. The people that are fabulously rich and donate in large amounts to political campaigns do so because they probably expect a fairly specific kind of result (e.g. lowest possible taxes on the rich, a reliable voice on social issues, etc.). This kind of reform is likely to improve the electoral process, but that improvement doesn’t redound to the specific benefit of anyone in particular, so therefore is unlikely to draw in large donors. The best hope for the Megapac, in my opinion, is to try to fund it with millions of small donations.

  5. I’m sure you could get Buffet, Gates and Soros on board, but would the Koch brothers join or would they use their money to try a d game the system, or maybe take it to the Supreme Court? The PAC needs criteria for who is a legitimate candidate. How about a million signatures spread across at least half the states? Maybe this would help truncate this endless, mindless primary campaign.

  6. Only problem- it runs counter to the raison d’etre of superpacs in the first place. Given that money is now the functional equivalent of speech, your plan technically limits speech. This was precisely what Citizens United was trying to prevent (though I think in practice it has limited the speech of the rest of us by comparison to those whose speech it enabled). I agree with your conclusion that it would actually level the playing-field by deterring any ‘overdonations’ on the part of any one person, but alas- to my inner economist’s disdain- I agree with it mostly on the normative premise that such deterrence actually ensures more free speech for everyone. I see Citizen’s as basically saying that if you have a louder voice you’re speech is more influential. If you use your loudspeaker too much, you have to lend it to the next guy, incentivizing less ebullient ‘speech’, keeping the overall loudness at a level in which everyone can participate.

  7. Great!

    Not all ‘the rich’ have such an ethical orientation that they prefer to exploit existing rent-seeking opportunities at the (opportunity) cost of better-functioning government. Further, I think there are a lot of economic interests very much vested in the soundness of US fiscal policy (which is in part undermined by misaligned incentives for politicians, most notably campaign finance rules). I definitely think campaign financing could be and ought to be (and, given the points above, may likely be) a focus of charitable contribution. This isn’t to say raising the money would be a trivial matter by any means, but it seems like a good approach.

    I would tend to see it as a second-best solution.. I think there are more fundamental ways to address campaign finance reform (constitutional amendment(s) regarding citizens united and/or private campaign financing as a whole.. I tend to lean toward some general form of public financing), but don’t see these as feasible (especially, though not exclusively, as a result of the rent-seeking behaviors that the present system has afforded).

    There are certainly some tricky details associated with picking which races to become involved in; I would think enough people would want to sign up that the fund would exhaust its resources. In some cases you would end up picking winners rather than just deterring super-pacs (or you push candidates to stop fundraising just under the arbitrary limit). As I think through some of the specifics I am now a bit more skeptical, but a good idea to start from in some regards.

  8. Kartik, I was getting ready to make the same exact comment! I guess Chris is proposing a private version of that. Which makes some sense, but also makes me deeply uncomfortable. If private money is the problem, can private money be the solution?

  9. It reminds me of a similar Warren Buffett idea for encouraging campaign finance reform, wherein an eccentric billionaire offers to give a billion dollars to the political party that delivers the most votes for the finance reform bill so long as the bill doesn’t pass. Neither party wants the other to receive the money so passage of the bill is assured and the billionaire doesn’t even have to give the money.
    http://www.gametheory.net/News/Items/013.html

  10. Not to lower the tone of the conversation but… a gaggle of rich people? When there are so many other lovely suggestions of collective nouns, such as a “vault,” a “wunch,” or a “suit.” http://www.hintsandthings.com/kennel/fictitious-collectives.htm

    In practice, most candidates are supported by multiple super/PACs. Would Mega/MAD-PAC be able to choose between them and, if so, who would get to decide which PACs would get the new funding stream? Similarly, if a single donor wanted to support a candidate through his/her PACs, could they avoid tripping the new fund by putting just-under the threshold into the various superPACs associated with a single candidate?

  11. Technically, superpacs are not associated with particular candidates. And while in reality many of them are clearly associated with candidates, many others are not, or they may support one candidate here, another there. So it might be difficult (but by no means impossible) to come up with triggers that counteract real imbalances in practice. FYI McCain-Feingold did something very similar to this through public financing in something called the ‘millionaire’s amendment” for when rich people spend on their own campaigns (which is admittedly different than superpacs). However, the supreme court struck it down.

  12. If this comes to fruition I think I’ll start a super pac for every major candidate and set myself up as chief executive with no responsibilities but a salary equal to the amount of giving.

  13. I think the word you were looking for is “mondo.”

    The lack of official association between Super PAC and candidate lets the system be gamed. If I were Gingrich, I would try to use the mondo-PAC against my opponent: create a fake pro-Romney PAC, channel as much money through it as possible, triggering lots of mondo-PAC anti-Romney advertising. The fake PAC money could even be returned to contributors, since mondo-PAC behavior is linked to fundraising, not spending. If it’s linked to spending, I produce very weak or ambiguous pro-Romney ads.

  14. Here’s an alternative that doesn’t require anyone to pay any money…

    Support a Mandatory Voting Law backed by a small affordable fine for failing to vote. Fines could be collected via the Income Tax process. Many people believe this mechanism would force politicians to dump the PAC’s and other Special Interests groups altogether to the benefit of the Voters (regular people). Our collective political apathy is, to me, the PRIMARY reason our political system is failing the very people it was designed to represent.