Sitting politicians fundraise throughout the year from lobbyists, interest groups and supporters vying for influence. They develop the networks and infrastructure to capitalize on their position of power. And they accumulate large amounts of money ready to deploy against competitive threats. In this way sitting politicians are like big corporations. In contrast, most potential congressional challengers start their campaign without any funding. The initial disparity in campaign funding creates a huge disincentive for challengers to run against incumbents. Challengers face a steep uphill battle regardless of how much better they are for the people, how much more integrity they have or how much better at policy writing they are.
If we could level the fundraising playing field between challengers and incumbents then we would get better challengers. Talented people would run more often if they had the initial capital to build a team and get their message out. Think of it as start-up capital. Without the initial capital to hire a small team and build a prototype, the best ideas and best political challengers, cannot survive.
We can level the playing field by investing ‘startup capital’ in congressional races ahead of selecting a challenger. The public can donate money to a fund throughout the year that automatically goes to whoever wins the primary election of a specific congressional seat. More challengers, who otherwise wouldn’t risk their time and money, would be incentivized to run in the primaries, knowing that if they win they have the initial capital to wage a legitimate challenge against a sitting politician. So-called ‘safe seats’ become competitive ensuring the public gets to choose the best leader each election.
Competition breeds talent and talent gets results. These are good things for our democracy.