Scholarship Award: Young Steward of Public Policy

Joaquin Rios, 2004-2005 Second Place Award

Scholarship Award

Young Steward of Public Policy

SRP General Dynamics C4 Systems APS The Arizona Republic Tucson Citizen


Second Place Award 2004-2005

"Campaign Reform"

By Joaquin Rios
Corona Del Sol High School
Tempe, Arizona

"As the election cycle heats up yet again, Arizonans are reminded of the peculiar institution that is the modern American political campaign. As the dehumanization kicks into hyper gear and the truth becomes a matter that is up to interpretation, electoral campaigns fail miserably at accomplishing their intended purpose. This purpose is to provide the electorate with the necessary information to make an educated decision at the ballot box, to serve as a forum for creative ideas, not for creative bickering. Some may say that this is the nature of a free society, and that this discourse, as slanted or biased or unprofessional as it may be, is vital for our democracy. While I am not here to propose the abolition of the electoral campaign, or even its legislation, I do feel that there is a practical alternative to the status quo in election campaigning. I propose that we adopt a system that would be known as “common fund” campaigning. In such a system, the government would provide an incentive, whether through some sort of tax break, through the lobbying efforts of the state's leadership, or some other method, for recognized political parties to pool their resources into a common fund. This common fund would then be used to advertise for all candidates and cover campaign expenses. However, all advertisements would focus on particular issues rather than particular candidates, and would give candidates the opportunity to explain their positions. In addition, all campaign appearances would be discussions contrasting the positions of the candidates, leaving to yesteryear the biased and educationally useless propaganda rallies that we see today. This system would be preferential because it would lessen partisan tension, it would reduce the influence of special interests in government, and it would lead to higher-level discussion on the campaign trail.

Any person who follows recent political events is familiar with the common belief that the nation is more divided along partisan lines today than ever before in American civic life. No president has won a majority of the popular vote in sixteen years, and rather than discussing swing voters, politicians now see the nation as a battlefield between “red states” and “blue states.” The partisan divide in this nation has literally shut down the government in recent years, and solving this issue should be a priority in order to preserve the stability of modern American culture. Arizona has traditionally had an independent streak compared to the other states, and therefore because it is more inclined to think above party lines it is the perfect place to test out a “common fund” campaign system. By making the campaign system more objective it diminishes the chance for demagoguery and it increases the chance for dialogue.

Arizona is a state with a special connection to the issue of campaign finance and the influence of special interests. As home to John McCain, we claim as our native son one of the foremost crusaders against special interests, and as a state with a “clean elections” law in place, we have proven to be a state that literally puts our money where our mouth is. As the constitutionality of such laws is under attack, an alternate way to reduce the influence of special interests would be advantageous, and a “common fund” system of campaigning provides exactly that alternative. In a “common fund” system, no individual contribution would benefit any specific candidate, and so contributions to the “common fund” would be made out of civic duty rather than duplicitous ambitions.

Under the present system of campaigning, the sensationalism that dominates the media has come to dominate the political discourse in this country as well. This is highly unfortunate, and it is a disservice to our nation and to the memory of our forefathers to allow this slide into the cheapening of civic discussion to continue. A “common fund” campaign system would serve as the most practical and effective antidote to this trend, because the objectivity that is inherent in such a system would free candidates to discuss ideas rather than sling mud. Arizona is a state that has traditionally given an exceptional amount of respect to candidates of integrity, and there is no more practical way to let candidates of integrity shine than in a “common fund” system.
A “common fund” system is not the perfect solution to the problems in electoral campaigns, however it is the most viable and potent solution to the problems in our current system. Such a system would shift campaigns back toward their original purpose, making a step in the direction intended by the framers of our nation rather than in the direction intended by the framers of the status quo. It is my belief that Arizona is uniquely situated to serve as a testing ground for this proposal. This proposal may not be a specific piece of public policy, but rather is a proposal for how to insure the integrity of all public policy. This proposal provides an opportunity for Arizonans not only to work for reform, but for reform at the very core of our democracy and our society, and that is why this opportunity should not be wasted.

As the election cycle heats up yet again, Arizonans are reminded of the peculiar institution that is the modern American political campaign. As the dehumanization kicks into hyper gear and the truth becomes a matter that is up to interpretation, electoral campaigns fail miserably at accomplishing their intended purpose. This purpose is to provide the electorate with the necessary information to make an educated decision at the ballot box, to serve as a forum for creative ideas, not for creative bickering. Some may say that this is the nature of a free society, and that this discourse, as slanted or biased or unprofessional as it may be, is vital for our democracy. While I am not here to propose the abolition of the electoral campaign, or even its legislation, I do feel that there is a practical alternative to the status quo in election campaigning. I propose that we adopt a system that would be known as “common fund” campaigning. In such a system, the government would provide an incentive, whether through some sort of tax break, through the lobbying efforts of the state's leadership, or some other method, for recognized political parties to pool their resources into a common fund. This common fund would then be used to advertise for all candidates and cover campaign expenses. However, all advertisements would focus on particular issues rather than particular candidates, and would give candidates the opportunity to explain their positions. In addition, all campaign appearances would be discussions contrasting the positions of the candidates, leaving to yesteryear the biased and educationally useless propaganda rallies that we see today. This system would be preferential because it would lessen partisan tension, it would reduce the influence of special interests in government, and it would lead to higher-level discussion on the campaign trail.

Any person who follows recent political events is familiar with the common belief that the nation is more divided along partisan lines today than ever before in American civic life. No president has won a majority of the popular vote in sixteen years, and rather than discussing swing voters, politicians now see the nation as a battlefield between “red states” and “blue states.” The partisan divide in this nation has literally shut down the government in recent years, and solving this issue should be a priority in order to preserve the stability of modern American culture. Arizona has traditionally had an independent streak compared to the other states, and therefore because it is more inclined to think above party lines it is the perfect place to test out a “common fund” campaign system. By making the campaign system more objective it diminishes the chance for demagoguery and it increases the chance for dialogue.

Arizona is a state with a special connection to the issue of campaign finance and the influence of special interests. As home to John McCain, we claim as our native son one of the foremost crusaders against special interests, and as a state with a “clean elections” law in place, we have proven to be a state that literally puts our money where our mouth is. As the constitutionality of such laws is under attack, an alternate way to reduce the influence of special interests would be advantageous, and a “common fund” system of campaigning provides exactly that alternative. In a “common fund” system, no individual contribution would benefit any specific candidate, and so contributions to the “common fund” would be made out of civic duty rather than duplicitous ambitions.

Under the present system of campaigning, the sensationalism that dominates the media has come to dominate the political discourse in this country as well. This is highly unfortunate, and it is a disservice to our nation and to the memory of our forefathers to allow this slide into the cheapening of civic discussion to continue. A “common fund” campaign system would serve as the most practical and effective antidote to this trend, because the objectivity that is inherent in such a system would free candidates to discuss ideas rather than sling mud. Arizona is a state that has traditionally given an exceptional amount of respect to candidates of integrity, and there is no more practical way to let candidates of integrity shine than in a “common fund” system.
A “common fund” system is not the perfect solution to the problems in electoral campaigns, however it is the most viable and potent solution to the problems in our current system. Such a system would shift campaigns back toward their original purpose, making a step in the direction intended by the framers of our nation rather than in the direction intended by the framers of the status quo. It is my belief that Arizona is uniquely situated to serve as a testing ground for this proposal. This proposal may not be a specific piece of public policy, but rather is a proposal for how to insure the integrity of all public policy. This proposal provides an opportunity for Arizonans not only to work for reform, but for reform at the very core of our democracy and our society, and that is why this opportunity should not be wasted."

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