A bribe is a terrible thing to waste. After all, to get your money’s worth out of a good bribe, you have to spend an awful lot of money. And when a big spender doesn’t get what they paid for, I imagine that it must be quite upsetting.
That’s important, because we get up to a lot of bribery here in the USA every time that we hold an election. We call our bribes “campaign contributions”, but that’s a bit of a euphemism. It’s influence money. The US Federal Election commission reported that the current crop of contenders has a combined war chest of more than $125million… and we’re still over a year away from the actual election. In the 2012 presidential election, more than $1.3billion got spent. That’s enough to buy a Daring-class guided missile destroyer and still have enough left over to host a extravagant national election.
Giving your preferred candidate a few quid is relatively meaningless in the grand scheme; our politicians are bought and sold with sums that stagger a working person. A few very wealthy donors can completely warp an election, effectively rendering normal citizens’ efforts inconsequential. We know that the rest of the world thinks we’re a bit mad for this. We do appreciate how damaging it is to the integrity of our vaunted democratic process.
That being said, something seems to have changed recently. In September, Rick Perry, the former governor of Texas, decided to drop out of the race after his research showed that he couldn’t secure his party’s nomination. Shortly thereafter, we learned that one
of Perry’s biggest Political Action Committee contributors wanted his money back. Reports suggested that the donor wanted to reinvest his cash with a more viable candidate while his influence was most influential.
I find this interesting because it suggests that there’s a new expectation in play: above a certain threshold, money spent that hasn’t achieved its desired results should be immediately re-engaged so that its warping effect isn’t wasted. I doubt that this would apply to a measly $5 contribution, but $5million is clearly in-range. So… what about a $5,000 payment? Or $500? I’d wager that the line is drawn a lot lower than the politicians expect. Americans are willing to sue over much smaller financial slights, such as failed Kickstarter projects.
Now that the topic is on the table, someone’s going to have to figure out how to make it work. That means creating a payment and money-management system that satisfies donors’ demands for efficacy. With that, I can see a whole new financial services niche opening up for a clever institution that facilitates placing political contributions with very specific strings attached, that are then handled with lightning reflexes:
IF a candidate does (or fails to do) X, Y, or Z, THEN that donation gets automatically re-routed to the next candidate on the list in a similar way to stock trading algorithms.
This isn’t just free market capitalism – it could become its own meta-market, featuring transaction fees for every change, its own futures market, and smartphone apps that let investors watch swarms of similar contributions scurry from candidate to candidate like schools of startled fish. All facilitated by clever machine logic that parses social media for candidates’ gaffes and the changing mood of the always-fickle electorate.
That’s the secret heart of the American political process – scads of cash will flow through the political process, but only the cynical process facilitators will actually make any money. The voters get grand spectacle, despair, indigestion, and (eventually) a new president who’s always remarkably similar (once in office) to the one he or she replaced.