The Simple Fix That Will Save the American Republic

When I ran for Congress in 2010, I was outraged, saddened, and stunned at the amount of time I had to spend raising money over the phone -- an activity called "call time." Think of call time as professional panhandling. My staff literally locked me in a room with three other "dialers" where we engaged in 10-12 hours a day, six days a week, of constant dialing for dollars so that come fall we could air 30-second TV commercials that most people either ignored or fast forwarded. The process sickened me. American democracy wasn't supposed to be like this -- this wasn't what Jefferson and Madison had envisioned.

We as taxpayers own the airways. The FCC leases out use of those airways to private corporations to broadcast programs (i.e., ABC owns Disney, Comcast owns NBC, etc.). Come election time, those private corporations charge candidates an arm and a leg (i.e., a fortune) to access these publicly owned airwaves in order to get their messaging (i.e., campaign ads) out to constituents to garner constituent support. The systems creates a tremendous entry barrier to running for office -- i.e., it costs a fortune. It also creates a system where our elected officials and candidates simply do not have the bandwidth to both govern and raise the money they need to get elected. Thus, our current legislative mess. Fantastic fundraising and/or personal wealth does not correlate to good governance. Hence, our congressional representatives are poor governing officials, but fantastic fundraisers.

How do we fix this all at once?

Do what the Brits do.

In the United Kingdom any candidate who acquires enough signatures via the petitioning process to get on the ballot is guaranteed free and equal access to TV and radio airwaves and debates. As a result, those candidates do not have to spend an inordinate amount of time raising unseemly amounts of money to access these airwaves to air their ads in an attempt to get their ideas heard by their constituents -- resulting in a significantly lower entry barrier to running for office. In theory, the candidate with the best ideas has a far better chance of competing and winning because electoral victory isn't predicated on purchasing the airtime to get one's ideas broadcast (i.e., our current system which depends on significant candidate fundraising in order to pay for access to publicly owned airwaves).

Thus, the simple fix. Congress should pass a law mandating the FCC to add the following provision to all broadcast licensing contracts: "Any entity wishing to broadcast over airwaves in the United States must guarantee free and equal access to said airwaves during the last 60 days of an election to any candidate who has received the requisite number of signatures via the petitioning process to earn a place on the electoral ballot."

It wasn't supposed to be this way -- but together, we can fix our Republic and restore it to the process envisioned and championed by our founding fathers.