The Failure of Proposition 522 in Washington State got me thinking. And before jumping to calling me an UN-American, socialist, commy, whatever. Let’s take a look at team sports.
Football, basketball, hockey and even baseball all have some form of salary cap, and or revenue sharing. Technically baseball has a luxury tax for spending beyond a certain threshold. Of course the owners have their own economic reasons for supporting this. But the sports media and the fans have wildly supported this for purer motives. And for the sake of this blog I will now refer to fans as voters.
The voters and the media support this, in part, because it helps to level the playing field. The rich teams that either generate more revenue because of the market they are in, or who have wealthy owners willing to spend money earned outside of the sport, had a seemingly unfair advantage. They could spend money on players other teams could and still to a degree cannot.
How can competition be meaningful if the scales are tipped in advance of the competition? This is also why the worst teams in one season get the best draft picks for incoming talent in the following season. Draft selection order and salary caps are an attempt to give leagues parity, and all teams as fair a chance as possible to put together their resources, and to make their case on the field, through their play, that they are the best.
For years, the highest spending team in sports, the team most vilified for it, and its championships diminished by others, was the New York Yankees. The Yankees would spend close to more on one player than an entire team’s payroll. Opposing voters didn’t applaud their championships, they said they bought them.
On to politics and the failure of Washington State’s ballet initiative 522 which would require companies to label their food if it has been genetically modified.
Do we want elections and ballot initiatives to be bought? For example, opponents of proposition 522 spent a record (for Washington State) of approximately 22 million dollars to defeat it. Outspending those in favor by about 12 million. In California, a similar measure, proposition 37, was defeated when those against raised 48.6 million versus 8.7 million for those in favor.
In the grand scheme of things, sports are unimportant. Trivial. A welcome distraction to the toils of everyday life. Not life and death! The Yankees or other large market teams, having an “unfair” advantage over others will not effect whether you get cancer, whether we go to war or have healthcare. Politics and ballot initiatives do. Don’t we want these elections and votes to be as fair as possible? Shouldn’t there be some maximum bar of how much money can be raised and spent to persuade the voters that their side is good and the other is evil?
In the justice system there is an axiom. “You get the justice you can afford”. The implication being that the rich have access to better lawyers and resources that can disproportionately influence a jury. Thus they can “buy” their outcome.
It is not hard to see where money can enable a disproportionate advantage in the courtroom and on the sports playing field. Nor it is difficult to see in politics. It is just not nearly as widely reported on or condemned.
In the 2008 presidential election Barack Obama outspent John McCain nearly 3 to 1. I have a feeling if it was the other way around we may have heard more about that, but that is a blog for another day.
I sincerely state that maybe props 522, and 37 would have been voted no if closer to even money was spent. Then Senator Obama still could’ve just as easily defeated Senator McCain. But shouldn’t voters be treated to roughly the same amounts of exposure to both sides/points of view? Should elections be or have the appearance of being buy-able?
Would we want to let a prosecutor call 2 witnesses and let the defense call 10? Would we say to the defense you only raised enough money to speak for 2 minutes during your opening and closing statements but the prosecutor can speak for 20? Would these factors, if they existed, disproportionately influence a jury? I think so. Is this what we have and want in politics? What does that say about our democracy if so?
Even in sports the money gap never allowed the Yankees to bat for 7 innings and the other side for 2. However, in essence, with the massive amount of differences sides can raise and spend on campaigns, the airtime, advertising and media equates to letting one side have grossly more access to the hearts and minds of voters. And given that all sides of any issue past and present have proven they are capable of playing fast and loose with the truth… isn’t this dangerous?
Why not cap fund-raising to a reasonable amount? People smarter than I can come up with a formula based on the region, economics, etc… It would be up to the sides and parties involved to raise it. So for example, say the cap on 522 was 15 million and those in favor of a no vote raised the 15 million. And say those in favor raise 12 million. The no people would still be able to spend their 15 million but at least the gap is closer and more reasonable.
Such a system would create the possibility of equal fundraising and minimize the potential for disproportional spending and advertising which, would most importantly, give the voter the best chance at reaching a conclusion in his her best interest or inline with their thinking and true wishes. And isn’t that kind of the point of elections?