Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Democracy Is About Representation, Part 2: Media and Money

Published: The Huffington Post 2011-01-04

For the last year on and off I have written about expanding Congress. We will now have approximately 710,000 citizens per congressperson. It is the second worst ratio on the planet.

Doubling the size of Congress would put us in the middle of the pack at around 355,000 people per slot.

There are economic and political forces that need to be convinced that this is a legitimate way to go. Part 1 of this series was about convincing Congress to expand.

One economic force that needs to be addressed is the media. This interest must be protected. There will never be a limit to the amount of cash raised by a politician because this is fuel for the media.

I remember when Howard Dean was running for president and he made a crack on CNN about controlling the media. (My first thought was something about dead men walking.) Was it coincidence a couple of weeks later "The Scream" was driving him from the presidential field?

Where does all that cash raised by the political system go? The simple answer is: commercials (radio, TV, print), bumper stickers, signs and the like. The media isn't about to sit around and let that cash cow get slain in the name of "good government" -- whatever that is.

If you want to change the system, you have to make sure the media gets its cut.

I can make a business argument that the media is losing money on the national election process. An analysis of FEC filings for the 435 races in 2010 revealed there were 69 that were unchallenged seats. That is over 15% of the seats. Were these 'safe' seats? Maybe the Congressperson is doing such a great job that no one wanted to challenge that person? Or maybe it cost too much to take a chance on even setting foot onto the field?

Let's put a $1,000,000 price tag to run a campaign (maybe more -- maybe less) per candidate. That means for each of those unchallenged seats the media lost at least $2,000,000! (Each candidate's campaign plus any third party activity...) Why should a 'safe' incumbent spend anything to run? They aren't running against anyone.

Could the media have lost 69 seats times $2,000,000 or $138,000,000?

Let's split that district in half. We will also split the $1,000,000 per candidate in half too! ($500,000 per candidate per race.) Instead of 2 slots we will have 4 slots. Just on the first pass alone the media will recoup at least $1,000,000 because that new smaller district will be contested.

Since it ONLY costs $500,000 to get into the game, chances are the original incumbents will have competition. The media gets the other $1,000,000. (Please notice I am not asking for any spending limits here.)

Let's apply the capitalist system of competition to the election process so someone can make some money.

We all know how the media loves to predict horse races with polls. We all know that to feed the beast the media needs something interesting to report about.

With all these extra seats, and the seats being competitive, you know there are going to be some really fun-to-watch bat-guano-certifiable loop-jobs running. How much fun was watching Christine O'Donnell last year? We will have more of the races as we let more people access to the government. It is a democracy -- anyone can run -- let's prove it.

Races like this generate ratings. Isn't that the name of the game for the media? If people are watching Wolf talk about Sarah Palin going into a small district, that is going to drive ad revenue. Campaigns aren't paying for story coverage or talking heads, but the Jon Stewart conflictonator will be able to produce more greenbacks with less effort.

I really don't think the media's bean-counters care all that much about the government as long as they can make a buck off of it.

So split all the districts in half -- (the new gerrymandering stories alone will keep the media busy for months) you get more competitive races with more wacky candidate campaigns to report on. Everybody wins!

So -- to all you financial analysts for the media: Increase the size of Congress and you will increase your bottom line. Please send be a 1% retainer for this advice to ...

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