« Home | Seventh Circuit and Reparations » | Court Issues New Grants » | The Major Court Battles on the Horizon » | Posner Speech » | Alito Honored » | Cheaters Never Win » | Not Dead » | Tucker Max Appeal » | Cato's Constitution Day » | Debate on the Constitution at Marquette » 

Wednesday, September 27, 2006 

The Death of Publicly Funded Elections

George Will, a strong opponent of campaign finance reform, has an excellent opinion piece about an unintended consequence of that reform: the death of publicly funded elections. What is this funding? Well, if you look closely at your tax return, you would know...
Taxpayer funding, enacted in 1974, empowered taxpayers to direct, by a checkoff on their income tax forms, that $1 of their tax bill be used to fund presidential campaigns. Even though the checkoff did not increase anyone's tax bill, participation peaked in 1981 at 28.7 percent -- a landslide "vote" of 71.3 percent against it. In 1993, Congress increased the checkoff's value to $3, thereby enabling fewer people to divert more money from the government's pool of revenues collected from everyone, including the 90 percent of taxpayers who now decline to participate.
I have never and will never check that box.

How does campaign finance reform affect all of this? It's all about contribution limits...
It is delicious that McCain-Feingold, the reformers' most recent handiwork, is helping kill taxpayer financing of presidential campaigns. Before McCain-Feingold, limits on contributions of private money -- set in 1974 and not indexed for inflation -- became steadily more restrictive, so candidates accepted public funding. But McCain-Feingold, by doubling the permissible size of campaign contributions, made it easier for candidates to raise sums far larger than taxpayer funding provides.
Both Bush and Kerry declined public funding (and the limits that it imposes), which freed them to raise huge amounts of money. Even with the McCain-Feingold limits, Bush and Kerry managed to raise $269.6 million and $234.6 million respectively before their conventions. Taking public funding would have put either candidate at a distinct disadvantage.

People in favor of public funding seem to think that it will elevate the campaigns beyond the "special interest" funded extravaganza that they supposedly are now. There seems to be a desire to get all of that dirty private money out of elections...
Reformers desperate to resuscitate taxpayer funding cite the supposedly scandalous fact that each party's 2008 presidential campaign may spend $500 million. If so, Americans volunteering to fund the dissemination of speech about candidates for the nation's most consequential office will contribute $1 billion, which is about half the sum they spend annually on Easter candy. Some scandal.
Sounds a little funny when you put it that way, doesn't it?

Will hits the nail on the head when he explains why the public has rejected taxpayer funded elections...
Could it be that Americans recoil from funding political advocacy with which they disagree -- Republicans funding Democrats, Democrats funding Republicans, everyone funding fringe candidates such as the felon Lyndon LaRouche, who got infusions of taxpayers' money for a campaign he ran while in jail for fraud and conspiracy?
As entertaining as Lyndon LaRouche can be, I don't want a dime of my money going to that goof. I also didn't want a dime of my money going to Kerry. I think those views (possibly with different candidates named) are shared by an overwhelming number of taxpayers. We just don't want to give money to candidates that do not hold our views.

Edit Comment

About me

  • I'm Steve
  • From Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States
  • "There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences." P.J. O'Rourke
  • E-mail Me
My profile