Digital cash and campaign finance reform

Tim May timcmay at
Mon Sep 8 11:15:31 PDT 2003

On Monday, September 8, 2003, at 10:11  AM, Steve Schear wrote:

> Everyone knows that money is the life blood of politics.  The topic of 
> campaign finance reform in the U.S. has been on and off the front 
> burner of the major media, for decades.  Although the ability of 
> citizens and corporations to support the candidates and parties of 
> their choice can be a positive political force, the ability of 
> political contributors to buy access and influence legislation is 
> probably the major source of governmental corruption.  Despite some, 
> apparently, honest efforts at limiting these legal payoffs there has 
> been little real progress.  The challenge is to encourage "neutral" 
> campaign contributions.  Perhaps technology could lend a hand.
> One of the features of Chaimian digital cash is unlinkability.  
> Normally, this has been viewed from the perspective of the payer and 
> payee not wishing to be linked to a transaction.  But it also follows 
> that that the payee can be prevented from learning the identity of the 
> payee even if they wished.  Since the final payee in politics is 
> either the candidate or the party, this lack of knowledge could make 
> it much more difficult for the money to be involved in influence 
> peddling and quid pro quo back room deals.
> By combining a mandated digital cash system for contributions, a cap 
> on the size of each individual contribution (perhaps as small as 
> $100), randomized delays (perhaps up to a few weeks) in the "posting" 
> of each transaction to the account of the counter party, it could 
> create mix conditions which would thwart the ability of contributors 
> to easily convince candidates and parties that they were the source of 
> particular funds and therefore entitled to special treatment.
> Comments?

All a contributor who wishes to be "credited" with having contributed 
has to do is "encode" his identity or that of his organization in the 
_amount_ of the contribution. This can be done out-of-band, even posted 
on a Website:

"Remember, gun owners! Show your support by contributing _exactly_ 
$91.37 to the candidates we recommend."

The pile of contributions of $91.37 would be just as sure (actually, 
only about 99% sure, for obvious statistical reasons) an indication of 
what the campaign donations were about as having a name attached.

(Sort of a higher-precision parallel to the practice of paying soldiers 
with $2 bills so that local merchants would really understand just how 
important the local military base was to their business.)

And if the system is unlinkable, then of course the contributions need 
not be N contributions from N different people. They could be N 
contributions of "91.37" from one contributor, a contributor who sends 
the politician an out-of-band (e-mail) message telling him exactly what 
to expect.

There are other ways to thwart this idea. And this use of digital cash 
got talked about a lot here several years ago. Having Big Brother run a 
"mix" where all such unlinkable contributions are pooled and then 
disbursed is an obvious fix (but then no need for digital 
cash...ordinary checks and money orders and cash accomplish the same 
thing, once Big Brother is the one holding and disbursing the cash).

Also, it will never fly for just general social reasons. Not only would 
such a system also be usable for untraceable payoffs (a feature for our 
kind of people, but a problem for some others), but the complaint would 
be heard that the computer-illiterate would not have equal access, blah 

Also, the issue with campaign reform has
And needless to say, the entire concept of "campaign reform" is 
profoundly contrary to the Bill of Rights. Everyone involved in 
limiting political speech via "campaign reform" deserves to be tried 
and hanged. I'd really hate to see a digital cash company firebombed 
because of its involvement with the forces of darkness.

In any case, campaign finance reform is essentially uninteresting and 

--Tim May
"Dogs can't conceive of a group of cats without an alpha cat." --David 
Honig, on the Cypherpunks list, 2001-11

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