The Public Financing Question

October 30, 2015
posted by Bob Bauer

Tom Edsall’s piece on Congressional public financing proposals imparts a good sense of both their appeal and their vulnerabilities—the reasons why they have strong supporters and equally committed detractors.  Of all the points of disagreement, perhaps the simplest is the use of public money: either you believe that political reform, like any other, requires funding, or you will protest that the use of taxpayer dollars is nothing more than “welfare for politicians.”  Should the argument move from there, the competing claims about costs and benefits are notoriously hard to test, and what passes for an acceptable case depends on profound differences in political perspective.

These are the principal claims:

--less corruption: that dependence on private funding can lead to quid pro quo corruption;

--better public policy: that candidates who spent too much time fundraising develop a skewed view of public and policy    priorities--and there can be a related objective, highlighted by Edsall, that public financing schemes will result in better progressive policy, such as a higher minimum wage, stronger gun controls and the abolition of the death penalty;

--better electoral process: that ordinary citizens without wealth or high-level connections would have more of a chance to run      for office, offering more choice in candidate backgrounds, worldviews and platforms;

--better government: that candidates would spend less time on fundraising and more at their jobs;

--more political equality: that the political system would benefit overall from a more “level playing field.”

Looking Back (Again) on Citizens United

March 20, 2015
posted by Bob Bauer
Lawrence Tribe and Floyd Abrams have each spoken or written recently about Citizens United, and their views, while not the same, suggest a continuing movement toward appraisals that are balanced between full embrace and outright condemnation. And, as Professor Tribe suggests, a measured judgment of the Court’ performance in that case helps with the re-orientation of the campaign finance debate that is long overdue.

Arizona and Its Conflicts Over Public Financing

October 28, 2013
posted by Bob Bauer
After one unsuccessful engagement with the Supreme Court, the State of Arizona continues to work through the implementation of its public financing laws. The issue remains, as before, how it can structure the law to draw candidates into the systems. One strategy it devised did not suit the Court: the state discovered that it could not provide offsetting public funding to participating candidates who faced well-heeled opponents and free-spending independent expenditure groups.