Campaigns/Elections

Money for Moochers

Arizona's 'Clean Elections' system is doomed-and for good reason.

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As the Supreme Court heard a First Amendment challenge to Arizona's rules for public financing of political candidates on Monday morning, it became clear that the state's Clean Elections system was doomed. Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is expected to provide the decisive vote, telegraphed his position by plainly describing the system's essence, albeit in the form of a question.

"Do you think it would be a fair characterization of this law," Kennedy asked Institute for Justice attorney William Maurer, "to say that its purpose and its effect are to produce less speech in political campaigns?" It is difficult to conclude otherwise after considering how Arizona's Citizens Clean Elections Act works and how its supporters justified it.

The law gives each publicly financed candidate an initial allocation, plus additional money if people who oppose his election, including independent groups as well as other candidates, spend more than that threshold. The Clean Elections system therefore penalizes a nonparticipating candidate not only for his own speech but for the speech of organizations over which he has no control.

If a privately financed candidate faces multiple publicly funded opponents, the penalty for speech in his favor is compounded. Suppose he has three taxpayer-financed opponents. Should an independent group spend $10,000 on ads praising him or criticizing his opponents, those candidates will receive a total of $30,000 in "matching funds" to spend against him.

As Kennedy noted during oral arguments, the knowledge that your spending will trigger subsidies to your opponents is apt to make you "think twice" before speaking. The plaintiffs challenging this system, including several politicians and two independent groups, say it has had a chilling effect on their speech, leading them to reduce or delay their campaign spending.

Such self-censorship was an explicit goal of the activists who campaigned for the Clean Elections Act, which voters narrowly approved in 1998. The measure was sold to the public as a way to reduce campaign spending and "level the playing field" (an aim that is still proclaimed on the website of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, the agency charged with enforcing the law). The initiative campaign noted that "candidates who chose to raise money by continuing to use the old system…would be faced with various disincentives to raise more money than a Clean Elections opponent."

After the initiative passed, the Clean Elections Institute, an organization devoted to defending it, explained the importance of these "disincentives" in an internal document. "A traditional candidate may think twice about raising additional funds in a race against a Clean Elections candidate," it said, since "for every dollar raised above the base amount, the CE candidate is matched….With the Clean Elections matching funds system, it can be argued that millions of dollars in spending never takes place."

Unfortunately for the law's supporters, the Supreme Court has rejected both limits on spending and manipulation of the candidate mix as rationales for campaign finance regulation. The one rationale it has accepted—preventing corruption—cannot justify the Clean Elections scheme, which provides countervailing subsidies in response to spending by self-financed candidates and independent groups as well as spending funded by donations. In any case, Arizona has strict limits on campaign contributions.

The goals and essential features of Arizona's Clean Elections system are similar to those of the so-called Millionaire's Amendment, a provision of federal law that raised contribution limits for congressional candidates facing wealthy, self-financed opponents. The Supreme Court overturned that rule in 2008, concluding that it imposed an unjustified burden on freedom of speech. If anything, Arizona's system—which provides actual money, not just permission to take more of it from each donor—is even more objectionable.

The likely demise of Arizona's law does not mean that public financing in general is unconstitutional. But at a time of fiscal reckoning, the last thing the government should be doing with taxpayer money is funding candidates who prefer forcibly extracting subsidies from their fellow citizens to seeking their voluntary support.

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason and a nationally syndicated columnist.

© Copyright 2011 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. http://www.slate.com/id/2289623/pagenum/all/#p2

    To read the other side of this argument check out the always dimwitted Dahlia Lithwick’s whinny column in Slate yesterday. Dahlia can’t tell you why it is Constitutional for the government to fund one candidate at the expense of another. But she knows that not doing so will allow icky people to have more political speech. The calls the theory that less political speech makes us less free “novel”.

    1. That right there would be scary, if I weren’t so used to dumbass columnists having no clue about…pretty much anything.

      1. And to think Lithwick went to Stanford and is still that stupid. Or perhaps because she went to Stanford she is that stupid.

        1. So did my my brother in law and he’s a moron….with a certificate to prove it.

    2. Of course she would approve of the Anti Dog Eat Dog Act.

  2. “As Kennedy noted during oral arguments, the knowledge that your spending will trigger subsidies to your opponents is apt to make you “think twice” before speaking.”

    Those who are in power don’t like it when those who are not in power have a voice. Children (which is how they view us) are to be seen and not heard.

  3. Jesus FUCKING Christ – like we need more examples of why the government should NOT be in the bidness of having ANYTHING to do with elections other than conducting them.

    No “public” financing of any campaign or speech or whatever. This particular effort is beyond stupid, and AZ should be ashamed to be in front of the SCOTUS defending it. Give up and get out of the campaign business, AZ.

    Good morning, Reason!

    1. nope – ALL campaigns should be publically financed AND no other funding allowed w defined campaign periods for the primary & general.

      1. Because the government should decide who gets money, and who does not, and, the government should be allowed to tell people how they can, or can not spend their own money.

        1. each state regulates its elections & answers to the voters. duh

          1. “Answering to the voters” is a pretty thin reed when the State controls the campaigns.

          2. “each state regulates its elections & answers to the voters. duh”

            Amendment 1: “Congress shall make *NO* law…….” (emphasis added).
            See that “no”? Do you see anything that says, “well, unless….”?

            1. so are u saying that states DONT regulate elections?

              1. So your plan would be to say that the regulators answer to the voters… who by the fact of these public funding schemes are no longer allowed to discuss the malfeasance of the regulators…

                Sounds like a great plan to prevent anyone complaining about the regulators.

              2. OO|3.30.11 @ 10:54AM|#
                “so are u saying that states DONT regulate elections?”

                Regulate in that they limit one voter per person? Yes.
                Regulate in that they use taxpayer money to supposedly ‘make things fair’?
                Well, AZ tried it, and is about to get slapped.

          3. No, fucking politician “answers” to the voter! Duh!
            Most voters are dolts.

          4. I see what you did there. You changed the subject.

            Typical troll.

          5. What if they regulated their elections by not letting the darkies vote?

        2. Government should decide who the people should be allowed to vote for.
          Government might as well decide who the people vote for as well.
          Heck, why bother to have elections?

          1. all or nothing fallacy

            1. OO|3.30.11 @ 10:56AM|#
              “all or nothing fallacy”

              Correct reading of government activity.

            2. Without government there would be no roads, no education, no health care, no testing for prescription drugs, no building standards, no rules, no charity, no nothing.

              We owe everything to government.

              If we’re so inept that we need government to do everything for us, what makes us qualified to choose who runs government?

              Shouldn’t that be done by government as well?

              1. Where is my government appointed ass-wiper when I need him?

      2. Yes, government should fund everything, employ everyone, and control our money, thoughts and lives.

        Sieg Heil, baby….

        1. not so much. but have fun

          1. OO|3.30.11 @ 9:57AM|#
            “not so much. but have fun”

            It’s sort of amusing to see you duck and weave when your hypocrisy is pointed out to you.

            1. hardly. the “all or nothing” fallacy, which tex wrote, is indicative of an ideologue.

              1. Which, oo, you undoubtedly are.

              2. OO|3.30.11 @ 10:55AM|#
                “hardly. the “all or nothing” fallacy, which tex wrote, is indicative of an ideologue.”

                Proposing an activity that leads to that result and then trying to duck it is indicative of:
                A) A hypocite
                B) An ignoramus
                You choose.

                1. For a magazine called “Reason”, we sure get some dumb-ass trolls.

                  1. …. ugh… this thread is boring the crap out of me…. but anyway…

                    DRINK

      3. Urine, you do consistently bring the stupid. Thanks for that.

  4. Seriously, enough legislators in Arizona thought this piece of law was a.) constitutional and b.) a good enough idea that they voted for it?

    The whole scheme – as is anything based on the base premise of providing public funds to candidates – is nonsense on stilts.

    1. My fellow Arizonians voted for this on a ballot initiative. Idiots

  5. Spend as much non-public money as you want to run your website. That is all.

    1. But not 90 days before an election!

  6. Dahlia Lithiwick is pretty silly I would agree.

    I think Tulpa and I had a pretty honest debate on this last night. I’ll restate my position in support of the law’s constitutionality. The law does not “abridge” any speech. It simply makes sure that any speech by/for any non-participating candidate is “matched” for participating candidates. It is content neutral. It has the compelling interest of fighting corruption and its appearance, its effect on speech is only incidental (actually as I argue it can be seen as adding speech as it bars none but actually subsidizes some).

    The scenario Tulpa and I discussed was this: he said imagine a debate that you paid 10 dollars to participate in, if the government paid the 10 dollar entrance fee for your five opponents then you would be less likely to pay the fee and debate (fee=cost of presenting speech here). But I said that’s not quite how it works, a better analogy is that everyone pays 10 dollars for 10 minutes to speak and if I pay an extra 10 to get 10 more minutes the law kicks in to pay my opponents so they can speak another 10 as well. It provides more speech.

    1. It has the compelling interest of fighting corruption

      How? Corruption in this context is presumably a quid pro quo for campaign speech. How does the government selectively funding one candidate affect that at all?

      1. How? Corruption in this context is presumably a quid pro quo for campaign speech. How does the government selectively funding one candidate affect that at all?

        Exactly. This argument is nonsense, since it does nothing to limit any corruption.

    2. “I’ll restate my position in support of the law’s constitutionality. The law does not “abridge” any speech.”

      Bull…………..
      shit.
      Taking money from someone to fund a position that person does not support infringes that person’s speech.
      Your ego kinda blocks your vision.

    3. “But I said that’s not quite how it works, a better analogy is that everyone pays 10 dollars for 10 minutes to speak and if I pay an extra 10 to get 10 more minutes the law kicks in to pay my opponents so they can speak another 10 as well. It provides more speech”

      Good point. More speech, but better speech?
      But consider this. You are a serious candidate. I am a serious candidate. The more your ideas are exposed, the greater your chance of winning. The more my ideas are exposed, the greater my chance of losing.
      Using your idea,there is another 10? 15? or more candidates running. There is only so much time people have or interest in listening to candidates. Say people will only listen to 5 hours of political debate. From a debate between you and I, divided 50-50, you have the advantage. But pretty soon we are in a situation where you and I are reduced to only 10% of the total time to get our ideas out. Remember the democratics’ debates with what? 12 candidates debating, most of them with no chance at all? One could posit that the best candidate will win – I think it is just as likely, if not more so, that the extaneous candidates can take attention away from the more serious candidate and cause a more flipent, less serious candidate to prevail – remember, a cacophony of voices helps the simpler shallower arguement to prevail. Even democrats attack democrats – didn’t Gore use Willie Horton against Dukakis?

      With every extra candidate that can’t win, it diminishes your chances and increases mine.

  7. Can a middle class or lower candidate have a chance to win a public office without corporate backing? No.
    So, I believe this is a problem.

    The Clean Elections fund is a smart mechanism, in my opinion, to help balance. It doesn’t take tax money. It is impartial (if it isn’t, how isn’t it?).

    1. I think a quick look at the AZ legislature shows that this,along with noncompetitive districts, tend to reward the extremes on both sides of the political fence.
      A single issue candidate (with a real stupid issue) can now afford to run in a safe district and win. And in the process unleashing that stupid on the rest of the state

    2. “It doesn’t take tax money.”
      Do they get it from the unicorns?

      1. It’s funded by surcharges on court fines. Which brings us to criminals funding criminals

        1. TeamBarstool|3.30.11 @ 2:22PM|#
          “It’s funded by surcharges on court fines.”

          And money being fungible, they’re lying through their teeth.
          Those fines used to pay for something else, now taxes cover that.

          1. no, it’s an additional tax on the fine you pay. The surcharge was not there before the initiative was passed.

            1. Which, even if they duck the fungibility issue (and that’s open to question), means that money is taken from someone to support views they may not.
              Amendment #1: “Congress shall make no law…)

              1. now you get it…

                I still like the criminals funding criminals part. Somehow I’d like see a RICO angle worked

  8. Simply limit campaign spending to the total compensation for the term they are running for and to hell with where they get the money.

    1. The financial rewards to a corrupt candidate come from the ability to legislate and “pick winners and losers,” economically. A limit based upon the base compensation would have no effect on limiting corruption in candidates who are predisposed to it. Perversely, such a limit would serve to limit the ability of honest candidates to get their message out to the voting public. And, finally, there is this pesky little thing called the 1st Amendment….

  9. “Simply limit campaign spending to the total compensation for the term they are running for and to hell with where they get the money.”

    Amendment 1: “Congress shall make *NO* law…….” (emphasis added).
    See that “no”? Do you see anything that says, “well, unless….”?

  10. Let’s just hope that Justice Kennedy rules the way his question would indicate.

    “Clean Election”: Orwellian speak for, “Keep out any icky ideas that government bosses find threatening.”

  11. All campaigns are publicly financed, (except in those exceedingly rare cases where every candidate is a self-funded Ross-Perot-type).

    Most campaigns are ‘indirectly’ publicly funded. Candidate X says: “give me campaign donations now and I will give you back multiples once I get into power.” So the unions or the banks or the lawyers or the insurance companies or whoever else has skin in the game give the campaign donations, and when their guy wins (and note that they can have more than one of the candidates on their donor rolls in any given race), they get the promised kickback from the government (which, of course, is often just a continuation of an already-established kickback).

    Direct funding like in AZ just takes the necessity of the quid pro quo out of the system. As an ordinary candidate (without Ross-Perot self-financing), instead of promising to give away money from the public coffers once you gain power tomorrow in exchange for donations today, you just get the money from the public coffers up front without having to make any big promises.

    Perfect? Maybe not.
    Better? I think so.

    1. Unlikely. The candidates still get financed by private interests, they simply get extra funds to match the highest spender.

      No limitation on corruption is demonstrated from such a system. The candidate is still beholden to those who have the greatest impact on their election, i.e. groups within the larger voting base.

      1. Well, being beholden to “the larger voting base” is exactly what we want in a democracy.

        Heeding the popular will as manifested by the voting majority is not some odious variant of “corruption.” It is the opposite: it is honest government.

        And the “corruption” that might arise from raising a modest sum in order to qualify for matching funds is, very nearly tautologically, more “limited” than the corruption that might arise from having to raise a much larger sum from so-called “private” donors.

        I really don’t think you have a point.

        1. Well, being beholden to “the larger voting base” is exactly what we want in a democracy.

          I see you ignored what I said. “Groups within the larger voting base” does not equal “larger voting base”. And the idea that the majority is somehow correct in their desires is not a self-evident truth, it is simply the way the system is designed; reality be damned.

          Heeding the popular will as manifested by the voting majority is not some odious variant of “corruption.” It is the opposite: it is honest government.

          It is simply “government”. “Honest” is a description that is not inherent in simply following the whims of the many. Ask blacks if they pine for the “honest” days of the Jim Crow era.

          And the “corruption” that might arise from raising a modest sum in order to qualify for matching funds is, very nearly tautologically, more “limited” than the corruption that might arise from having to raise a much larger sum from so-called “private” donors.

          There is nothing tautological about this, since there is no evidence to believe that corruption is proportional to money raised.

          1. Note that I said “honest” government, not “good” government. Jim Crow was not good government. But it was not “corrupt” government. It was not the result of bribery, collusion, or secret horse-trading. It was an entirely transparent and above-board manifestation of a racist and hateful majority’s political will.

            Good government and anti-corruption are two distinct topics with a modest measure of overlap.

          2. “There is nothing tautological about this, since there is no evidence to believe that corruption is proportional to money raised.”

            This shows you to be unserious. If the matching funds came in at $1,000, you maintain that the exposure to corruption is the same as if the matching funds come in at $100,000? If this is your premise, it is self-rebutting and no one is obliged to address you as if you are speaking in earnest.

            1. This shows you to be unserious. If the matching funds came in at $1,000, you maintain that the exposure to corruption is the same as if the matching funds come in at $100,000? If this is your premise, it is self-rebutting and no one is obliged to address you as if you are speaking in earnest.

              There is nothing mathematical about “corruption”. Please show us the equation that proves raising $10 million in donations is less corrupting than raising $100 million? Hell, show us how raising $10 million is less corrupting than putting up your own $50 million, if you were self-financing?

              1. Here’s a fork ’cause you’re done.

                1. Danny|3.30.11 @ 2:18PM|#
                  “Here’s a fork ’cause you’re done.”

                  Translated from brain-dead ignoramus:
                  “I got busted on my bullshit”

                  1. Hey, look who just finished changing Epi’s diaper!

        2. Danny|3.30.11 @ 2:40PM|#
          “Hey, look who just finished changing Epi’s diaper!”

          Translated from brain-dead ignoramus:
          “My bullshit got busted again, and I’m not smart enough to come up with more”
          Thanks! You never disappoint.

        3. Danny|3.30.11 @ 12:52PM|#
          “I really don’t think…”

          Now we’re getting close.

    2. Big Government has enormous power to *uck up people’s lives. It’s quite logical that people will go to great lengths to ensure that that power will be used to *uck up somebody else’s life.

      The obvious solution is to reduce Big Government’s capacity to *uck up people’s lives.

      1. Right, Ted. But how do you get from point A to point B?

        Take the War on Drugs. There isn’t much of a funding base for legalization. There is an ENORMOUS funding base for continued criminalization. Yet, when somebody can cut through the noise machine and the public hears the arguments for legalization, the public is markedly responsive.

        This seems like a situation where an independent-minded, liberty-oriented candidate who could raise a modest campaign fund could make some headway if he got matching funds once his party-line politics-as-usual opponents start raking in from the LEO unions and the DARE lobby.

        Of course, the union bosses representing those cops and prison guards sure don’t want to see their hard-earned tax dollars going to match funding for some dirty-hippie libertarian candidate who is soft on drugs. They like the current system, where their money goes only to their own chosen candidates, and they get a fat-and-juicy tax-funded payroll in return. Their position is understandable from the perspective of self-interest. But what’s our excuse?

        1. “This seems like a situation where an independent-minded, liberty-oriented candidate who could raise a modest campaign fund could make some headway if he got matching funds”

          Translated from brain-dead ignoramus:
          “If my pig had wings, it could be an airplane. Oh, and screw the 1st Amendment.”

          1. Ladies and gentlemen, for your lurid amusement:

            sevo … the anencephalic baby that lived!

            1. Danny|3.30.11 @ 2:49PM|#
              “Ladies and gentlemen, for your lurid amusement:”

              Quoth the brain-dead asshole……

    3. Danny|3.30.11 @ 12:20PM|#
      “All campaigns are publicly financed, (except in those exceedingly rare cases where every candidate is a self-funded Ross-Perot-type).”{

      Bull…………
      shit.
      Conflating taxes with contributions only shows how ignorant you are.

      1. I can see why you keep it to a schoolyard shouting level most of the time. You embarrass yourself when you try to get even remotely substantive.

        The point is that contributions are given by donor X in order to get candidate Y to fork over money from taxpayer Z after the election. But don’t even try to comprehend. It’s way over your head. Go back to calling me an a**hole or whatever. It’s all you are really capable of.

        1. Danny|3.30.11 @ 6:52PM|#
          “I can see why you keep it to a schoolyard shouting level most of the time. You embarrass yourself when you try to get even remotely substantive.”
          Translation from brain-dead ignoramus:
          “My bullshit got busted again”

          “The point is that contributions are given by donor X in order to get candidate Y to fork over money from taxpayer Z after the election.”
          So the solution is ot take it from them before hand!
          What a wonderful way to extend government power!
          Your bullshit got busted again.

        2. “Go back to calling me an a**hole or whatever.”
          Oh, and go back to calling me an anencephalic baby or whatever, asshole.

        3. Danny,
          I’ll make it easy enough that you might understand. Now pay attention; the concepts are not difficult to grasp:
          1) The 1st Amendment reads: “Congress shall make no law…..”
          2) Taking money from any person to support a political view which that person may not support infringes that person’s speech.

          No matter what sort of utilitarian positive results that do or may come from the violation of #2 do not and cannot be used to violate #1.
          Go ahead, spin all the fantasies you please of how the a priory taking of the money is sorta, kinda, maybe like posteriori taking, but that’s nothing other than one more justification for taking.

  12. Tax the fuckers. Who said campaign contributions should be tax exempt, anyway? Charity, my ass . Make the politicians pay tax on money received. Oh, and no deductions, either.

  13. Do a thought experiment where candidates get all the air time they want on a public service channel.
    Think…
    As it is free, 100 people run for the office. So everybody gets about 15 minutes? wouldn’t it be obvious that the next decision is who gets the 5 pm spot, and who gets the 3 am spot?
    One could simply the situation and say just fund dems and republs. Pretty easy to fairly devide the time equitably…But who would actually even watch a fraction of the time devoted to the two candidates on the special cable channel?
    Typical paid for 30 second spots during sports or popular shows would still predominate and be outside of the provided for free public access.
    OK, just give both candidates 20 hours of advertizing to be apportioned as they see fit. Both will try to get more advertizing outside of the offical amount. Now all of a sudden the gubermint has to KEEP people from communicating. As has already happened, one than gets into the tricky questions of if a blogger supports a particular candidate, is that advertizing? If a blogger attacks candidate A, is that an endorsement of candidate B?
    Ad infinitum…

  14. Objectively I can see why the AZ law isn’t right. But to be honest, less campaign noise doesn’t sounds SO bad….

  15. I doubt me not that the intent is not to stifle speech, but result doesn’t always match intent.

  16. Sure states regulate elections and voting niceties. I’m pretty sure nobody disputed that. States also regulate gambling, firearms, alcohol, and vibrators designed to stimulate your girlfriend’s vagina into orgasm. That has absolutely nothing to do with the point being made, which is that they should NOT be doing any of this. At all.

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