July 9, 2010 3:11PM

Big Money Speaks

Several groups came together to raise $15 million that they are now spending to promote the Fair Elections Now Act, the current public financing bill before Congress. I think this is a good thing. That is, I think it’s a good thing they can raise and spend several million dollars making their case on a public matter. It is an especially good thing compared to an alternative world in which Congress prohibited these groups from raising and spending millions of dollars for political advocacy.

Still, we might keep in mind a recent report by the United States Government Accountability Office that examined public financing in Maine and Arizona:

While there was some evidence of statistically significant changes in one of the five goals of Maine’s and Arizona’s public financing programs, we could not directly attribute these changes to the programs, nor did we find significant changes in the remaining four goals after program implementation. Specifically, there were statistically significant decreases in one measure of electoral competition—the winner’s margin of victory—in legislative races in both states. However, GAO could not directly attribute these decreases to the programs due to other factors, such as the popularity of candidates, which affect electoral outcomes. We found no change in two other measures of competition, and there were no observed changes in voter choice—the average number of legislative candidates per district race. In Maine, decreases in average candidate spending in House races were statistically significant, but a state official said this was likely due to reductions in the amounts given to participating candidates in 2008, while average spending in Maine Senate races did not change. In Arizona, average spending has increased in the five elections under the program. There is no indication the programs decreased perceived interest group influence, although some candidates and interest group officials GAO interviewed said campaign tactics changed, such as the timing of campaign spending.

In other words, nothing changed except that taxpayers paid for campaigns.