What if public funding of campaigns were free to taxpayers?

by Jack E. Lohman

Well, it’d still have opponents. Their arguments go like this:

It’s a “free speech” issue! If you limit funding by capping the campaign’s expenditures, it violates the Federal Constitution’s guarantee of free speech.

      But it doesn’t apply here.

Public funding of campaigns

    are voluntary on the part of the candidate, who may choose to accept limits and refuse outside funding or decline and take special interest cash. Believe it or not, some candidates rise to high ethical standards and do not want to be corrupted by outside cash. The Arizona system has been challenged in the courts on this, and the moneyed interests lost.

It’s a taxpayer funding issue! “I don’t want my taxes used to fund campaigns, especially those of candidates I don’t support.”

    It doesn’t have to cost the taxpayers a penny. In the case of Arizona, the campaigns are funded by a surcharge on criminal fines. If you don’t want to contribute, don’t speed!
      But as well, under today’s system, the taxpayers

already are

      funding the campaigns through the back door, and at hundreds of times more than if we simply funded them up front with taxpayer dollars. We are even funding competitive candidates.

When politicians repay their campaign funders with favored legislation, it costs the state about $1300 per taxpayer per year. Thus even if we did have it taxpayer funded, as in Maine, the cost would be less than $5 per taxpayer per year. Quite a savings.

It puts candidates at great disadvantage when WMC, WEAC or other special interests unload on issue ads against “clean” candidates.

    Not under a properly designed system (like Arizona and Maine). They provide candidates with enough funds to run a credible campaign, buy sufficient advertising, plus they add matching funds when attacks are made by outside sources. That reduces the incentives for such attacks and leaves the candidates to debate among themselves. As well, it actually increases debate by making sure that all candidates are properly funded.

I don’t want my candidates selected by my government!

    Well, they aren’t. They are selected by the constituents in the district. If the candidate cannot muster enough signatures to show community support, they keep their day job. Fringe candidates can be filtered out by requiring a $5 tax-deductible contribution on 80% of the signatures. It’s fair all around.

But… but… I still don’t like it!

Yeah, and that’s a problem. A politician problem. They don’t like it because it levels the playing field, and incumbents don’t like level playing fields. They don’t like “fair,” because that requires too much big money to offset, and that makes them look bad! And they don’t want to be labeled the “moneyed” candidate running against the “clean” candidate.

It’s a tough life, but they can choose the other side. I don’t mean the other party, I mean the folks they are going to represent.

Public funding of campaigns will eventually pass, but it will take a lot of pressure from the voters. It is currently opposed by the incumbents who deserve to be voted out of office, which is all of the Republicans and most of the Democrats. The nine legislators in the first column deserve re-election. The rest have to go.

Now it’s the voter’s turn.

13 Responses to What if public funding of campaigns were free to taxpayers?

  1. Jo Egelhoff says:

    Jack, just how can public funding of campaigns be free to taxpayers? That’s ridiculous.

  2. Curt says:

    I’ll have to agree with Jo on that. Just because you don’t implicitly call it a tax, it still is. Fees/Fines/Taxes…are all just different words for the same thing. I personally am torn on the funding issue, but to call it free for taxpayers is beyond silly.

  3. Thanks for the comments, Jo and Curt. The funding does not have to come out of the budget. In Arizona’s case it comes from a combination (60% from surcharges on criminal fines, 30% from tax-deductible check-offs on tax forms, 10% from several small sources like individual contributions at the time signatures are gathered.)

    But ZERO comes from taxes on corporations and ZERO comes from unwilling taxpayers. You could argue that those who violate the law and pay a surcharge on their fine are taxpayers too, but we could then argue that they are also “willing.”

    The point is that the money is NOT coming from special interests looking to receive taxpayer-funded assets in return.

    Will it actually eliminate the $1300? Who knows? Maybe some of it and maybe not all of it. But most certainly the legislators will change their priorities and spend our money in the best interest of the public. Perhaps fewer stupid highway interchanges will be rebuilt, fewer roads to nowhere, fewer taxpayer dollars spent building roads in developments for the realtors, fewer subsidies and etc.


  4. Curt says:

    That attitude is the troubling part of public financing. And the reason I’ll never be able to get behind it. It isn’t FREE. And those are TAXES. If you click a checkoff it comes out of the general tax pool, which means you moved tax dollars to fund it. As for the “Willing” speeders, that is simply another way of taxing an individual, and the money you take off the top of the ticket, is simply redirecting money that would otherwise have been used to fund police, and shifting that burden to the property tax.

    Argue the merits of taking big money out if you will, but this “Free” #$*($*#(* is just plain insulting. While we can all see the problems that come with campaing funding, there really isn’t any way to take money out of politics. People will always support the politian they think advances their position best. Government workers will always vote big governement. Tax payers will likely lean more towards lean government.

    I really don’t see how anyone can ever take money out of politics. I love the idea in theory. Line up your platforms, give us the details, then let us vote. But that “pesky” first amendment kind of gets in the way doesn’t it.

  5. Curt, neither is the current system FREE. The public pays a hefty price when politicians take money from the special interests that want government favors in return.

    Okay, so have it 100% come from criminal fines. But if you ask the public whether they’d rather pay $5 or have the special interests fund the campaigns, 80% will support the $5. And incidentally, if you really want to talk about which is more imposing on the idealists, it’s the current system that costs the public far more than $5. That money, whether $1300 or a small fraction, is also coming from the public.

    And if people want to support the politician they think advances their position best, so be it. Do it in the voting booth, not by contributing $1000 to buy dirty ads on TV.

    And, again, the first amendment doesn’t play into it if the politician opts to take public funds in lieu of private cash.

  6. clydewinter says:

    Nice clear, succinct article, again, Jack.

    Your attention grabbing headline, and the first sentence of the article clearly answer a rhetorical question. There are people (especially lobbyists) who will be against ending legalized bribery distorting and hijacking our government, no matter what.

    But no one (and certainly not you) believes that campaigns for elected office can be conducted for free. Thank you for persistently and patiently pointing out that the big “donors” to the two major parties do not “contribute” without expectation that their investment will produce handsome returns for their bottom line. And for reminding us at every turn that those pay-back expectations are paid for by us, the citizens, and by the resources for which our government is responsible.

    You’re right, Jack. There is no free lunch. It’s naive to think that we taxpayers don’t pay the bill to the waiter for the current corrupt system. And you, at least, are not naive.


  7. Thanks Clyde, and thanks for mentioning the “two major parties,” because corruption IS a bipartisan problem. It just so happens that the R’s are more to blame today because we are coming off of a Republican mess. But in 2010 we could as easily be coming off of a Democrat mess if the D’s also fail to fix the problem.

    It’s interesting that neither party has yet to see that — if they cleaned up the political system — they would (a) reduce or eliminate wasteful government spending and unnecessary taxes, (b) solve many of the business and economic problems we are facing today, and (c) ensure their electability and control of government for decades to come!

    They seem to have convinced themselves that the see-saw from one party to the next is the way it has to be, rather than putting themselves above it all and guaranteeing the loyalty of the voters and taxpayers.

  8. I’d add that it’s absolutely amazing to me that the very people involved in spending $1300 per taxpayer per year on unnecessary state spending — our esteemed politicians — are quibbling about a $5 investment to fund a clean electoral system. That confirms that this isn’t about taxpayer money, it’s about the advantages they enjoy with a totally unfair electoral system.

    Well, the game is over. The Republicans are on the way out and we’ll soon learn if the Dems are made of any better stuff. If they want to be known as the party that fixed the system, they have that chance. It’s interesting to note that the R’s chose to turn the other way when, if they had moved on the chance, could be leading this race. Wow.

  9. Jo Egelhoff says:

    I hear you Jack; would argue though, as Curt has done above, that there just is no such thing as a free lunch. For example, the 60% of funding in Arizona that you suggest comes from surcharges on criminal fines… it’s a tax Jack. And you can’t call those who are paying the surcharge “willing taxpayers.” Court charges in our state are multiple – and not small. So, you will add even more to the fines, so even more people can occupy a jail cell because they’re already unable to pay their fines -? The point is again, there is no such thing as a free lunch. If a society is using criminal fine surcharges (or whatever…) to finance campaigns, it’s a conscious choice – a choice that says public financing of campaigns is more important than say, higher reimbursement rates for Medicaid providers. Attention-getting or not, you can’t call it free Jack. You just can’t call it free.

  10. Thanks for the follow-up, Jo.

    No, there is no such thing as a free lunch, but the question comes down to which “tax” is cheaper for the taxpayers. I’d argue that $5 is better than $1300, or any other number you might want to use instead. But Arizona is even better.

    Yes, you could argue that the extra $50 will cause some speeders to spend nights in jail rather than paying the fine, and I’d counter that it’d also reduce traffic and drunk driving deaths. But I think we both are reaching a bit.

    And with the taxpayer savings we could indeed increase reimbursement rates for Medicaid patients. And a whole lot more. I think politicians must decide whether they are on the side of the public or the special interests, and if the latter hope that the public is not smart enough to know the difference. But I’d also look at where it has gotten the current crop.

    Let me also advise other readers that Jo Egelhoff is a candidate in the 57th Assembly district, and if she wins the seat may indeed (and I would hope) have to vote on this issue. So I am very pleased to see her interest in the subject and wish her luck on her campaign. Jo operates an excellent news web site at http://www.FoxPoliticsNews.net.

  11. Let me expand on my comment that “legislators will change their priorities and spend our money in the best interest of the public.”

    That is exactly what most politicians don’t want to do! They get their campaign money by spending taxpayer money on special interest giveaways, like the excessive roads I used as an example. To eliminate that benefit could cost them the election against a credible candidate.

    That’s also why the public must demand it. We want politicians working for us, not them.

  12. […] of?”  I must say: The same thing Republicans are afraid of with a campaign system that is funded by the taxpayers instead of the special interests that pad their […]

  13. […] What if public funding of campaigns were free to taxpayers? […]