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November 10, 2012

How to Get Fat Cat Money Out of Our Elections

A commons-based solution for invigorating democracy in the U.S.

The most expensive election campaign in U.S. history is now over.

The good news is that the Republicans’ advantage in Super-PAC money did not make a big difference this year—unlike 2010. Fat cats like casino magnate Sheldon Adelson went 0-8 in races where he invested $60 million. Linda McMahon spent an estimated $100 million of her own money to buy a Connecticut Senate seat and still lost.

The bad news is that most of the $6 billion spent this year comes with strings attached, making both the Republican and Democratic partis even more beholden to the corporations and individuals that backed their campaigns and will stake them again in 2014 and 2016. Just because all of Adelson’s candidates lost this year, doesn’t mean he won’t be influential as the next round of campaign fundraising begins.

Even worse, much of that money went for ads over the public airwaves, which are a commons that rightfully belongs to all of us. It’s ridiculous—as well as criminal—that elected officials become indebted for political favors from special interests in order to purchase airtime for commercials. In the process owners of TV and radio stations—who’ve grown wealthy off a public asset we all own—become even wealthier at the same time as our democracy is increasingly auctioned to the highest bidder.

Since the airwaves are rightfully a public resource—as established by Congress in the 1927 Radio Act—why not ban political ads? They are just as unhealthy for the health of our political system as tobacco is for the health of our lungs. We could then apportion a set amount of free airtime for candidates to make their case, as is done in many other nations around the world.