Embarrassing Truth: 5 Basic Things about Elections the Movie ‘Campaign’ Got Wrong

There’s a lot to love about the Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis movie about dueling political candidates The Campaign (review here). It’s funny. It’s timely. It has Will Ferrell, who would be hilarious on the side of a milk carton.

But would it have killed them to hire an actual political staffer to tell them how the system works? Or, for that matter, an eighth grade civics teacher?

Here are five things about our glorious, Constitutionally-dictated, freedom-loving governmental system the movie got wrong. Be warned, in exercising the First Amendment right to Free Speech, we do reveal some spoilers.

1) Becoming a Candidate 

The Problem: Just as it seems incumbent Cam Brady (Ferrell) will run unopposed and be the only name on the ballot, Marty Huggins (Galifianakis) marches into a courtroom and submits paperwork and a birth certificate (take that, Obama!) to become a candidate for US Congress.

The Reality: Laws vary widely from state to state, but it’s never that easy. Often there’s a rigorous schedule of filing dates, fees, disclosure requirements, and signature collections to be on the ballot. In fact, one sitting congressman, Thad McCotter, missed getting on November’s ballot due to failure to collect enough valid signatures. Ha ha. Bet he feels stupid. Otherwise, your weird cousin,  that guy who’s passionate about ferrets, and Misty May-Treanor would be on the ballot, not to mention Justin Bieber. It would be a thousand names long and we’d still have no good options. (Although I’d entertain May-Treanor, depending on her position on ferrets.)

2) Congressmen and Women Don’t Work

The Problem: In the movie, Cam Brady admits to his constituents that he mostly spends time playing “Angry Birds” and “Draw Something” in his Congressional office.

The Reality: We’re all mad at our elected officials and like to embrace this image, but it’s not true. There are exceptions, Congressional backwaters where crickets chirp, but most Congressmen, Congresswomen, and Senators work long hours. In addition to voting multiple times a day, which requires preparation to know how one will vote, they hold hearings, talk to the press, strategize, meet with constituents, advance their own agendas, sponsor legislation, co-sponsor legislation, then fly home weekly to meet with constituents and raise money. Sure, some find time to Tweet pictures of themselves in compromising positions or skim some money off the top, but the vast majority work like dogs. In fact, the problem may be that they’re working too little bit too much. We have new laws and big ideas coming out our ears with little to show for it.

3) Members of Congress can Unilaterally Suspend Workforce Laws and EPA Requirements in their Districts

The Problem: Sinister forces behind both candidates (hint: Rhymes with “Koch Brothers”) want their man in place so he can suspend workforce labor laws, nullify EPA requirements, import foreign workers, and turn the district into a little slice of China.

The Reality: He’s a Congressman, not Emperor. Ever heard of checks and balances, boys? Members of Congress have one power and one power only: voting on legislation. Sure, they can make a stink and request favors, but demand the EPA look the other way? Yeah. Not gonna happen.

4) Elections are Easy to Steal

The Problem: A single shot in the movie implies that the makers of the voting machine stuffed the virtual ballot box.

The Reality: Good news! Elections are harder to steal than you thought. Bad news! That’s because no one trusts the other party any more than a judge trusts a Lohan. You may be able to cheat voting for American Idol, but each and every election delegates hordes of volunteers to watch election officials like Twihards watching Kristen Stewart, only more angrily. It’s not that no one tries to pull hanky panky, it’s that there are as many rabid, crazed people watching for fraud and calling foul as there are attempts to commit it. Mutual distrust! It’s, um, a beautiful thing.

5) Abdicating a Seat

The Problem: In the most egregious example of Hollywood script electoral error, a victorious but chagrined Cam Brady has a change of heart and gives up the seat he just won in the election to Huggins, for the good of the district.

The Reality: When the people speak, that’s it, right or wrong. A seat in the House of Representatives is not something one man can bequeath to another. If Cam Brady had won the election, had a change of heart, and resigned, the seat would remain unfilled until a special election could be arranged and a new candidate elected. The seat never goes to the second place winner (aka the loser). We love ya, Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, but I bet your gardener studying for his US citizenship exam knew that. Yeah. It’s a little embarrassing.


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