Did you know that in the second half of a President's first term, we demand that our president perform two full-time jobs? The first job, for which no individual can ever muster sufficient time or attention, is to be the president. Despite the overwhelming nature of this job, we demand that our president perform a second full-time job: traveling all over the country wasting valuable time and resources to meet with rich people so he can raise millions of dollars so he can go on being president.
This is insane. In less than a year and a half, President Obama has participated in 132 fundraisers. While dealing with the overwhelming demands of the presidency, of economic crisis and war and peace, for the past 16 months President Obama has been at a fundraiser every 3-4 days.
This is not a criticism of President Obama, but of a system that requires him to take time off from his duties to have a fighting chance of keeping his job. And the never ending chase for more money is getting worse. George H.W. Bush only attended 27 fundraisers during his reelection campaign; Bill Clinton, 70, George W. Bush, 86. The pressure to raise money is getting more intense, and with outside groups and billionaires now able to spend unlimited amounts, a president feels he must scurry around the country sucking up to the rich and powerful if he is to have any hope of winning reelection.
It is absurd to think this does not affect a president's ability to do his or her job. It produces all sorts of bad incentives, and if nothing else it simply takes time and energy, which necessarily means less attention will be paid to far more important matters the president ought to be considering.
The problem, then, is obvious. What's the solution? We need some sort of system of mandatory public funding for election campaigns. I know other countries do this, but I don't know anything about how they actually go about it. How do you pay for it? How do you determine who is eligible for election funding? And in a legal landscape where money=speech, we may need nothing less than a constitutional amendment to bring real change.
The situation is even more dire at the state and local level. Billionaires can easily throw a million dollars at congressional races and overwhelm the local dynamics of a race. Done on a wide enough scale, such efforts could conceivably deliver a congressional majority almost entirely beholden to just a few people. If nothing else, as at the presidential level, the incentives are now all wrong. The most important skill for a congressperson is not detailed policy knowledge or an ability to build political consensus. It is the raw capacity to raise cash. Do that, and you can stay in congress.