Commentary

Wrong to Use Tax Money for Campaigns

Taxpayer funding of political campaigns is wrong for a fundamental reason: In a free society, people are not forced to give their money to support political activity they would otherwise not support. It’s that simple. As Thomas Jefferson put it, “To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical.”

Further, taxpayer funding of campaigns is a back door to spending limits, which is a major goal of Common Cause and other liberal “reformers” intent on socializing the political process. Spending limits—justified on the basis of “public” (taxpayer) funding—protect incumbents and disadvantage those who are not constantly involved in the world of politics.

Yet Americans overwhelmingly support term limits, precisely because they want a Congress of citizen legislators, not professional politicians.

Taxpayer funding, itself wrong on moral grounds, also would result in political careerists qualifying for the funding while outsiders and potential citizen legislators are turned down. And they wouldn’t even be allowed to raise funds privately.

Recent scandals regarding foreign contributions to the current presidential campaign raise legitimate questions as to their propriety. Outlawing foreign contributions may be a good idea, but it doesn’t mean we need taxpayer funding. Americans continue to oppose government funding of elections, as evidenced by the fact that in 1994 only 13% of taxpayers checked “Yes” on the presidential campaign fund.

Ultimately, the problem isn’t spending, in any event. We spend less than $10 per eligible voter per election cycle for every office in the land—from dogcatcher to president. The problem is the power of the federal government. Lord Acton wrote, “Power tends to corrupt.” That’s why the Founders set up a system of very limited federal power. Taxpayer funding of campaigns Will enhance federal power and corruption. Open, vigorous, privately funded campaigns are our best hope for reducing the burden of the federal government on the American People.

As former Chief Justice Warren Burger wisely wrote, “There are many prices we pay for freedoms secured by the first Amendment; the risk of undue influence is one of them, confirming what we have long known: Freedom is hazardous, but some restraints are worse.”

Edward H. Crane is president of the Cato Institute.