On Sunday morning at the local grocery store I shook hands with Sid Altman, an 80 year old retired history teacher who is running for the US Senate in Maryland. In 2000 when he last sought office Altman got 31,000 votes, about ~7% of the total number cast in the Democratic primary. His campaign cost only $850.
That amazing ratio --- less than 3 cents/ballot! --- suggests a simple, modest approach to political reform: divide each candidate's votes by the amount of money s/he spent.
Since we're talking about politics there are, of course, plenty of devils in the details --- but with a little effort they can be exorcised (probably more easily than the current system's infestation of imps). For starters, it makes sense to grant each candidate a tiny amount of credit at taxpayer expense, perhaps $0.01 per registered voter in the region. Then no office-seekers will get infinite ratios by spending zero and voting for themselves. Public funding could be applied to setting up web sites, printing pamphlets, and the like ... but not buying beer for one's frat brothers or lattés for one's sororal sisters. Audits would be necessary, as with today's system.
How to handle "outside" or "independent" spending? It would generally have to be credited to a candidate's account, as is done to some degree already. That raises the fascinating possibility of buying commercials on behalf of other contenders, in order to hurt their vote/$ ratios!
Probably the best solution is to round all expenditures to one significant digit, and thereby short-circuit arguments over unimportant details. When two vote/$ ratios are within a statistical uncertainty band of one another, hold a run-off.
A quick check of vote/$ ratios in recent elections suggests that quite a few results would have been different under this new system --- and that, to put it delicately, in many cases the spending of more money has not resulted in the better candidate winning office ...