Could our smartphones talk back to big-money politics?

I’ve had this idea rattling around in my head since 2007.

I’d love finally to take it from half-baked to beta. To do that, I need your help. Tell me if you like it, if you’d use it, how to improve it.

The goal: To give voters a new way to talk back to an election process that seems to grow ever more shallow, mean-spirited and money-driven.

My idea plays off concepts developed by political scientist Bruce Ackerman of Yale, with whom I’ve talked this notion through.

As individual voters, we can’t possibly counter the distorting gushers of cash flowing out of SuperPACs, or the other ravages created by the Supreme Court’s campaign-finance rulings.

But could we at least fight back a little with a stream of virtual cash.

Here’s the idea: What if we crafted a digital application that enabled voters to render daily, publicized judgments on how candidates were behaving on the campaign trail?

What if you had at your disposal a stash of virtual cash that you could deploy either to reward candidates who did something you liked, or punish those who did the opposite?

And what if your choices, and your explanations of them, were pooled daily with those by thousands of other voters, creating a vivid, crowd-sourced commentary on the campaign?

It would work this way: Through this application, available on your smartphone and laptop, you could opt to be a virtual donor in any federal race in which you’re eligible to vote. You’d get, let’s say, 10 thousand virtual bucks to spend on each election were you could vote, for Senate, House, president.

Every day, as you followed candidates making speeches, kissing babies, releasing white papers, running ads, or dueling at a debate, you could spend your bucks in 100-dollar increments to reward or punish them.

You could add to a candidate’s virtual fund as a compliment for behavior you liked, or deduct an amount to express displeasure at, say, a mudslinging ad or an evasive answer.

Either way, there’d be lots of game strategy for you to weigh in choosing how and when to spend your virtual dough.

And, with every allocation, you could post your reasons for it on the project site and on Twitter.

News outlets could post charts showing candidates’ fluctuating totals in this merit poll, fever charts and the like, along with a summary of the top comments of the day.  This would have some of the fun of a game and the who’s-up-who’s-down drama of a horse race.

But this new type of poll would chart not just who was likely to win, but who deserved to win.  It would provide a counterpoint to all the political coverage that assesses a campaign tactic only on the basis of whether it works, not whether it is honest, civil or ethical.

It would be an experiment in whether a new type of crowd-sourced commentary on modern politics could cut through the 24-7 static. It would be at least an attempt to talk back to the shadowy billionaires who are now set up to drive the agenda, and maybe the results, of modern campaigns.

Do you like this idea? Would you take part, if it were easy to do and free?

And what should we call it? Pol Watch? Indivua-PAC? Merit-ocracy? Please, give me a better name for it.

Put your reactions and ideas in the comments section below. Or email them to me at csatullo@whyy.org.

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