Government Financing of Campaigns: Public Choice and Public Values

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Following the passage of McCain-Feingold in2002, advocates of additional campaign financeregulation hope to persuade Congress and somestates to pass legislation that requires governmentfinancing of campaigns. Such programsoffer subsidies and protections against electoralcompetition to a select group of candidates andcauses. They also force taxpayers to support candidatesand causes they oppose.

Supporters of government financing saythese programs prevent corruption, advanceequality of influence, and enhance electoral competition.The redistribution imposed by governmentfinancing itself offers a case study in theuse of public power for private interests. Theconstitutional idea of equality--one person, onevote--does not require "an equal and meaningfulparticipation in the democratic process," asadvanced by advocates of government financing.Enforcing equality of influence would not takeinto account intensity of preferences among citizensand would tend toward majority tyranny.The record suggests that government financingprograms do not enhance electoral competition.

The public shows little support for governmentfinancing schemes. They have, at best, amixed record in polls and in recent initiative votes.The states that have public financing based ontaxpayer check-off have experienced steadydeclines in funding over the past two decades.

John Samples

John Samples is director of the Cato Institute's Center for Representative Government.