Monday, August 18, 2008

Why Public Financing Of Elections Sucks, Part I

I caught this on the local news this afternoon: Cash slips through public financing reform loophole. And after putting together just what was going on, I had yet another one of those "oh no" moments. Allow me to explain, as briefly as possible.

This primaries this past week were the first under Connecticut's new election laws allowing for public financing of campaigns. Somewhere around 80% of candidates around the state have opted for this funding, which required collection of small contributions ranging from $5 to $100 from a specified number of individuals in order to take part in the program. Candidates in the program can not accept money from business interests or lobbyists. There are specific rules governing how much particular candidates are entitled to receive in public financing and how much they are allowed to spend overall.

Two caveats to this new system were designed in the name of fairness. The first, unsurprisingly, allows candidates in the program to receive additional funds if they are outspent by an opponent not taking part in the program. The second allows candidates in the program to receive additional funds if they are subject to attack ads by independent groups.

The loophole? Candidates receiving public financing receive no additional funding if ads from independent organizations support the election of an opponent. Is it really a loophole? Well it certainly is when you consider the purpose of the program. But personally, I'd say it illustrates much of what's wrong with the program in the first place.

First and foremost there's this issue that independent expenditures are a real political problem in the first place. To that proposition I'd ask, "why?" You can get into debates about the semantics of free speech and whether or not campaign donations of money amount to free speech, but certainly, without a doubt, speech is still speech, and speech by any group, whatever it's purpose, is still speech. Just as newspapers are free to endorse candidates, citizens are free to form their own organizations to support or oppose candidates for office.

Biggest problem with "fixing" this particular loophole? A fix doesn't address a multiple candidate scenario, one not so prevalent in the general election, but certainly a potential issues in primaries. A simple example will demonstrate the problem. Say you have three candidates, A, B, and C. A receives public financing, while B and C do not. B and C both raise X, approximately equal amounts of money, and public funding entitles A to the same amount of cash. Shortly before the election, and independent group airs and ad in support of B. If this "loophole" is fixed so that A gets funds to match the advertisement in support of B, where does that leave C? B got an advertisement from a friendly group of citizens, A got cash from the government, and C's pretty much out of luck. There are always going to be campaign disparities, but the government going out of it's way to create them seems to be particularly egregious if you ask me.

The real issue with the entirety of campaign finance reform and public financing of elections is not that these new laws have loopholes, but why these new laws have loopholes in the first place. You just can't magically make elections fair and even no matter how hard you try, and election laws, like all laws, always have unanticipated side effects.

I think this makes for another good "libertarian discussion, so we'll make this part I. More on campaign finance issues to come.

1 Comments:

Anonymous rose said...

cont. discussion from before:

"Truth be told though, I'm not sure McCain's jumping to defense of Georgia is any better than Obama's unwillingness to take a position, given that Georgia actually started the hostilities. That's not to say Georgia wasn't justified (I'm really not sure), but the circumstances certainly demand caution."

What is your interpretation of what is happening in Georgia? Why did this happen in the first place? Ummm its pretty obvious. Russia wants to take the breakaway provinces of Georgia back and has been interfering there for some time according to most reports. Also Russia wants to let the former bloc know that they are not to be fucked with. Georgia had every right to impose its own will on its own sovereign land when an aggressive neighbor is interfering there. It's mind boggling that you think that we need a measured response here. Georgia is a pro-west, democratic ally and in that part of the world, we need to protect them.

This is the friggin problem with your mindset, Obama, Europe and our joke alliances...everything is measured. The UN and NATO never have the nerve to strike out a strong position on anything, which has caused problems forever. I don't need to cite them to you, you know better than I do.

The only way we are going to prevent Russia from expanding its influence is to let our smaller democratic allies in the region know we FULLY have their back. Otherwise how can they stand up to Russia. They can't and Russia won't hesitate to capitalize on it. (I'm assuming we're on the same page and that I don't need to get into why increased global democratization is in our interests, I'm taking this as given)

Obama's measured response was ridiculous. NATO's, ditto. The UN does nothing like usual. Bush's pact with Poland was the only productive bold move made by any significant leader in the world.


I'm scared shitless the US under democratic control is headed the way of Europe; ball-less and gutless unwilling to stake out a strong position on anything. But hey anything else is just cowboy foreign policy.

3:39 PM  

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