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Public Financing Alone Won't Work

Public financing has traditionally been the best strategy for reform since it relieves candidates of their dependency upon special interests. Unfortunately, despite its undoing by the Citizens United decision, many reformers continue to advocate public financing.

The Citizens United decision gave free speech protection to other sources of campaign financing. So now super PACs can accept unlimited contributions to help a candidate. That won’t change if public finances were made available. And because these PACs are “independent”, their candidate will also collect sanctioned contributions, like public financing, for their official campaign.

Since candidates who get both types of help will have a clear advantage, the “dependency” will remain as big donors continue making the difference on whether candidates win or lose.

In fact, PACs will leverage public financing to the advantage of their candidate. When the financing comes through “voting with dollars” for example, (where citizens give government vouchers to candidates), PAC advertising will target citizens to get this new kind of vote

Advertisements are very good at getting votes for candidates, that's why reform matters. So imagine candidates who are supported by the biggest super PACs also getting the most public financing, but with new unwarranted credibility that comes with small donors.

Even candidates who don't need the funds will use this approach to prevent opponents from getting them (since citizens have can only give a voucher to one candidate in a race).

So if there is any benefit from investing tax dollars to compete with big donors, it does not rise to the level of actual reform. And with just a few examples where taxpayers foot-the-bill to watch super PAC supported candidates scoop-up the lion’s share of public financing, Americans will once again feel cheated and more convinced that campaign finance reform is futile. The “solution” will actually make the problem worse.

But it is not futile if we directly address the Supreme Court decision equating money with speech. PAC spending on advertisements is eliminated by CFR28 without limiting speech, thus breaking the money/speech relationship. And when combined with public financing (under Section 2.5 of CFR28), it will once again be effective as citizens no longer compete with big donors.

We cannot work around the Supreme Court by trying to rewrite federal law again. Ideas that predated the Citizen United decision are no longer adequate. We have to amend the Constitution if we are to finally establish a system where wealthy donors cannot always find a way to manipulate our republic for their selfish purposes.

Michael J. Kyvik

p.s. There have been studies suggesting that public financing would achieve some success based on a few examples where it has been implemented. But even if these studies were comprehensive and definitive, which they aren’t, they’re unlikely to apply after implementing the public financing nationwide. Political strategists are not constrained by the predictable instincts of a fruit fly. As federal laws change, they will quickly adapt to use PAC ads to gather public funds for their candidate.

After thorough study of WWI strategies, France built a very expensive, seemingly impenetrable barrier called the Maginot Line along its border with Germany. On May 10, 1940, Germany simply went around it on its way to conquer all of France in less than six weeks. Faced with adaptable opposition, we have to use reasoning rather than studies of past behavior to develop sustainable reform.

 

Anthony Hartman