The revolution began with a Washington Post estimate that, collectively, presidential candidates and their backers spent $25 for each vote cast in 2016. A truck driver, Horace Smith, wrote the editor: “All that money to clutter my TV with attack ads? Just send us the money, please, and give us some peace! I’d sell my vote for $20.”
Posted online, the letter went viral. A HuffPost blogger recalled an old movie whose television anchor urged viewers to shout out their windows, “I’m as mad as hell . . . not going to take this anymore!” Within the month, a half-million people had watched that Network scene on YouTube, and most had updated their Facebook profile pictures with selfies in open windows.
The New York Times, predictably, opposed the idea. “Tammany Hall Redux!” an editorial fulminated. “Ward heelers with cash in their pockets?”
Defenders included libertarians like Rand Paul, an influential Senate voice despite his presidential failure. “Scare tactics!” he scoffed. “Americans have the right to use whatever criteria we want in casting votes. Nothing in the Constitution bars money.”
When President Trump weighed in, the movement became invincible. “Hellbent Hillary set a new record for ugly television,” he said. “I’m the most successful businessman in history, and I say it’s time to apply ordinary business sense to elections.”
Bills to let candidates offer cash incentives for votes were filed in Nevada and Iowa. Both proposed a trade-off: banning robocalls and all television, print and internet advertising. Within weeks, similar bills had been filed in Congress and in most states.
That’s as much as I can let you read; “Buying Votes” is one of two dozen short stories in a satirical volume published in September 2016, “We’ve Been Trumped.” You can buy at Amazon a paperback copy for $11.99, or a Kindle copy for $2.99. Darkhouse Books holds the copyright for the next year. In all bookstores soon.