It is now pretty clear that President Obama will raise and spend a billion dollars or more, and Governor Romney will do the same. Thus the major party candidates themselves will raise and spend two billion dollars or more; then the political parties and the independent expenditure group will raise and spend at least another billion dollars. The total of this campaign could approach four billion dollars or even more, making it the most expensive presidential campaign in history.
Critics say “put a limit on their expenditures, that is the answer”; but we cannot. The United States Supreme Court has ruled more than once that to do so would violate the First Amendment to the Constitution which prohibits abridgment of the “Freedom of Speech.”
My entire adult life has been involved in politics besides spending significant time as state and National Chairman. I have been intimately involved in three presidential campaigns: Nixon, Reagan and H.W. Bush and I have seen the cost multiply, with adverse unintended consequences. Each time an effort has been made to limit the cost it has failed.
There is a way to limit costs but only one way: LIMIT THE DURATION OF THE CAMPAIGN! There is no reason for a candidate to campaign for more than one year. Now we see them running for more than two years, raising and spending the money with abandon. I recommend the campaign period, including the time candidates raise money, be limited to less than one year. Here is my proposal:
1. A candidate can form an Exploratory Committee or a “testing the water” effort from January 2nd in the election year. Existing federal law allows them to make limited expenditures during this time.
2. A candidate may not declare he or she is a candidate and begin raising money until April 15th of the election year. (No one can forget this date)
3. In July of the election year, the parties will have their Primary Election. In the event the candidate fails to get a majority, the run-off election should be conducted in mid-August. The winner will then become the party nominee with about approximately sixty plus days to campaign. Then the candidates would not have time to raise a billion dollars or have the time to spend it.
Admittedly the TV airways would be inundated with political ads with the shorter period—the viewers would become nauseated. The candidates and their campaign staff would have to exercise some restraint to avoid being too visible. This would also require the media to make or sell equivalent time to all candidates. Then it would be more difficult for a candidate to “buy” the election.
4. This schedule could accommodate regional or national primaries to take place on or near the dates provided. In states like Utah with a convention selection process; they too should be bound by the schedule. Candidates must also declare their candidacy by April 15th.
5. County conventions should be held in July, and if a runoff is required, it should be held by mid-August. But either way the party candidate is selected, they would face their opposition party or parties in a sixty-day National Election. Admittedly there may be other ways for a party to select their candidate but the time limits outlined here would be applicable, and this would include third party candidates as well.
6. Over the years politicians and political scientists have suggested a National Primary or a Regional Primary, and both have significant merit. But even then, the duration of the campaign should be limited as I have suggested. Since state parties make their own rules, there must be some flexibility as they follow this procedure.
7. There could be other reforms. Some people have called for a pro-rata allocation of the electoral votes. Some even want a direct election, with the candidate getting the most votes to be elected even if it is not a majority. Some of these changes, if ever, will be a long way into the future; however, the limited duration concept is relatively easy and would not be so long coming and it would be very valuable. But even that may require a citizen’s referendum on a state by state basis or a national referendum. Certainly there may be some problems concerning time and local rules, but the benefit justifies the effort.
Richard Richards is a former National Republican Chairman under President Ronald Reagan