Clean Election's Dirty Secrets

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Interesting observations on the insanity of Arizona's "clean election" campaign reform laws and how they stymie candidates who want to run their campaign without stealing money from state taxpayers, via Arizona's branch of the Institute for Justice, which has sued to kill the law. It is discussing Matt Salmon, a Republican gubernatorial candidate who chose not to take public funding.

The Clean Elections system…hampered Salmon again when it paid his opponents the gross amount of contributions he received after the primary. President Bush came to Arizona and raised $750,000 for Salmon; the event cost Salmon $250,000, leaving a net gain of $500,000. Napolitano and Mahoney each received $750,000 from the State?the amount of Salmon?s gross receipts?resulting in $1.5 million being paid out by taxpayers, and a net loss of $1 million for Salmon. Only in Arizona could a fundraising visit from the President of the United States amount to a $1 million deficit for the intended beneficiary. Under these circumstances, only the foolish, the hopelessly principled, and the fabulously wealthy will run privately funded campaigns in the future.

To run for office without public subsidies in Arizona these days, traditional candidates like Salmon must spend lots of time and resources complying with a stringent daily reporting regime?just so their government-funded opponents can be showered with more taxpayer cash. Between July 1 and Election Day, privately funded candidates must file no less than 37 special reports. Government-funded candidates must file only three reports in the same period. This makes no sense: the candidate who refuses government subsidies is subject to more regulation than those who take them.

More details from Institute for Justice against Arizona's campaign finance law here.

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  1. What if 49 percent of taxpayers don’t think they’re getting anything of worth from the program? Unlike the coffee example, they don’t have a choice to not buy.

    That’s the fundamental problem with this kind of crap, and that’s why it’s accurately described as “stealing money from state taxpayers.”

  2. Barry Goldwater must be spinning in his grave. How dare Arizona make it inconvenient to purchase a public office.

  3. If people are so empowered that they can end the problem at the ballot box, then why are they afraid of people purchasing public office?

  4. Great point. On the one hand, Joe talks about voters as if they’re so wise they can decide, via their votes, whether a funding program should exist. On the other, he supports a program whose fundamental premise is that voters are pawns, vulnerable to getting taken in by big-spending candidates.

    Voters are either savvy or they’re not.

  5. The solution to this problem is for someone to raise ten billion dollars in fundraising and dare the state to match for all candidates. 🙂

    This is truly perverse. Candidate A is so unpopular that he raises $100 dollars in voluntary money. Candidate B raises $1 million dollars in volutary donations from his supporters. This is a problem whose solution is clearly to tax supporters of A AND B to make things ‘fair’. Yikes.

  6. Jason nails it. The bloody shirt here joe, is the fact that Solomon hustles and manages to get people to *voluntarily* contribute $750K to his campaign. Napolitano, by virtue of sitting on her ass is able to *force* me (yes, I pay taxes in the State of Arizona) to support her re-election campaign. This is a fair system? This twisted system somehow creates fair elections? Bite my shiny metal ass.

  7. Karl,

    Sorry about that shiny metal thing. Did it happen in the war?

  8. So now we’re pretending that the GOP’s advantage in fundraising results from having more supporters? Sorry, guys, it results from having WEALTHIER supporters. Janet Napolitano won the last election, and is fairly popular in her state, so the jump from lower fundraising to lower support is bogus.

    Sam I Was, you can (and often do, if I remember correctly) make that same “49%” argument about any government program. Can we agree that, ahem, stealing taxpayer’s money for a public election funding program has the same validity as any other government program, from the pov of “I don’t want my money spent on X?”

  9. I don’t know where I get this silly idea that greater campaign funds leads to electoral success. Oh yeah, from every politician, consultant, political scientist, and advertising professional in America. That’s it.

  10. Joe: Actually, statistically, the Democrats have more wealthy supporters than do the Republicans. Of the top ten individual donors in the 2001-2002 election cycle, 7 made at least 95% of their total donations to Democrats, and the top donor gave 80% to Democrats and nothing to Republicans. (That raises another issue entirely, the fact that many institutions give to both candidates in the hopes of gaining favor with whoever wins, but that’s a debate for another day.) So in fact, the Dems have wealthier supporters skewing the numbers in their direction.

  11. “Sorry, guys, it results from having WEALTHIER supporters.”

    HAHAHAHA you mean like those poor destitute supporters from the SAG or ABA?

  12. The fact that there are a lot of upper middle class Republicans with a spare grand or two lying around lets the super-duper rich supporters of Republicans off the hook, whereas Democratic donors are more likely to be able to spare fifty, a hundred, two hundred bucks at most. This makes those super-rich people who support Democrats more essential to overall Democratic fundraising efforts, whereas super-rich Republicans can give “only” $10k or $100k and not worry about the party running out of money.

    I know, it’s not as simple as “Democrats=small donors, Republicans=big donors,” but the GOP clearly draws on a larger base of people with serious money to give.

  13. joe, it ain’t your money. Surely your mama taught you not to steal.

  14. The core of the issue is not whether Dems or Repubs have bigger or smaller… donors. It’s not even about Dems or Repubs (you’ll find no reference to party in my post). It’s about the fact the Solomon got somebody (one or 10,000, I don’t care) to contribute voluntarily to him. Under this system that translates to Napolitano (plus others) being entitled to force many people to support their re-election campaign. Whatever you want to call it, you can’t call it fair without doing violence to the meaning of words (IMNSHO, if disclaimer be necessary).
    -Karl

  15. As I understand it, a losing candidate can keep the campaign war chest. Sign me up for this boondoggle.

  16. Yeah, I get it Doug. “The government spending tax dollars to achieve public goods is theft.” I was just curious as to whether your side has anything on this issue other than the old property rights/cheapskate/screw you I got mine argument.

  17. “…achieve public goods…”

    Hey, that’s a good one. You’re taking that Al Franken comedy writing course, aren’t you?

    Aside from the ‘fair election’ law helping put Janet Napolitano into office, for good or ill, we also had a couple of knuckleheads out here who figured out they could run for the state assembly and collect public campaign funds, which they used to pay for a big campaign party at one of Scottsdale’s premeir discotrash nightclubs. Totally legal. Of course they never had any intention of serving 5 minutes in the legislature, but they got the money anyway.

    I say if Janet Napolitano wants to spend money on a political campaign, she should do the right thing and get down on her knees to get it. There’s too many politicians already who think every fourth nickel anyone scratches up belongs by rights to the government–I don’t see any ‘public goods’ in accelerating their ascent into office by subsidizing their election campaigns.

  18. It really sucks that in 2004 we still have to fight for freedom, and that those on freedom’s side are now a distinct minority — in America, for God’s sake.

    At what point, Joe, is the tinkering done? How much longer does your side intend to keep this up? Do you all foresee a day when you’ve manipulated and choreographed everything so we’ve got the ideal society, and you’ll cease any new regulating and tweaking? Are you guys gonna have it all figured out, all the solutions to all those pesky problems — the inequality, the unfairness — that are induced by freedom? Will you all be able to finally rest someday and quit thinking so hard, figuring out new ways to tinker and choreograph?

    Or is there always gonna be some new “issue” that requires “action”? I really can’t imagine this would be the case; at some point you’ll have destroyed freedom to the point where it doesn’t pose any more problems for you. You’ll be able to rest.

    I’d really like to know. I’m honestly curious what the ultimate goal is here, and how far back we’re going to have to look in the rearview mirror to see what the concept of liberty actually looked like.

  19. “…a net loss of $1 million for Salmon. Only in Arizona could a fundraising visit from the President of the United States amount to a $1 million deficit for the intended beneficiary.”

    Wow, so after the fundraising trip, Salmon had $1 million LESS in his kitty than before? Um, no. Please expect to have this thrown back in your face the next time you complain about “a decrease in the rate of increase being described as a cut” in a government program.

    But it really is a shame that some of his staffers have to spend their time filling out reporting forms, when they could be engaged in the hallowed good work of…making fund-raising phone calls.

    There’s plenty to debate on the merits of the law, but seriously…THIS is your bloody shirt? That 1) one candidate isn’t going to outspend another as much as he’d like, and 2) staffers spend time reporting donations? (BTW, isn’t “full disclosure” the libertarian/conservative alternative to public financing?)

  20. joe beat me to the phony million dollar loss. But it IS 1.5 million dollars lost to taxpayers.

    It is disingenuous of joe to make a snarky comment about staffers filling out forms when the other candidates can make the exact same fund-raising phone calls without having to fill out forms.

    Coerced full disclosure isn’t exactly the libertarian alternative.

  21. “It is disingenuous of joe to make a snarky comment about staffers filling out forms when the other candidates can make the exact same fund-raising phone calls without having to fill out forms.”

    Actually, they can’t. The law limits the amount of fundraising a campaign can do, and has strict reporting requirements for candidates that opt into the public financing.

    Is the $1.5 million actually “lost?” When I buy a coffee, my $1.29 isn’t lost, it’s converted into something of equal value (actually, of greater value to me). If the taxpayers think they are getting something worth $1.5 million from the program, they haven’t lost their money. If they don’t they can end it at the ballot box.

  22. Doug, I’m not going to defend abuse of the system.

    But competitive elections, elections in which the opposition is in a strong enough position that the frontrunner has to take their ideas seriously, respond to them, and clarify their own thinking, are good for society. They curb ideological excess and discourage incumbants from developing a “divine right” complex. Democratic republicanism is more than a way of assigning public offices. It is a cultural system in which the ideas of majorities and minorities get bandied about and considered, and in which public officials always have to watch their backs and make sure they don’t forget who their bosses are. Having real challenges in elections is necessary for this to happen.

    Sam I Was, trash can fills up. Trash can gets emptied. Trash can fills up again. Repeat, ad infinitum. I’m not a utopian; there’s no there there. Liberalism is a journey, not a destination.

  23. Libertarianism is a journey and a destination, and it will be nice to it on the beach and enjoy the view when I finaly get there.

  24. > The solution to this problem is for someone to raise ten billion dollars in fundraising and dare the state to match for all candidates. 🙂

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