House Bill 120 is slated for the Senate floor today, and its approval would be based on false promises.
HB 120 (Short Title: Public Municipal Campaigns) would grant city councils with population in excess of 50,000, the option of initiating taxpayer-financed campaigns for municipal election campaigns in their city.
Often referred to as “clean elections” or “voter-owned elections,” this system of government coercion is hailed as a silver bullet for all that ails our political system.
Advocates of taxpayer-financed campaigns claim it will eliminate the corrupting influence of special interest groups, encourage more candidates to run for public office, and help citizens feel that their vote matters.
Experience, however, proves these expected results never materialize.
Failed Experiment in Arizona
- A 2002 article in the Arizona Republic (Arizona adopted “clean elections” in 2000) noted that “analysis of the actual performance of Clean Elections legislators in Arizona suggests that they do not vote differently than privately funded legislators from the same party.”
- Secondly, taxpayer-financed campaigns do not increase the number of candidates running for public office. In Arizona, from 2002 to 2004, the number of statewide candidates fell from 39 to seven; the number of legislative candidates fell from 208 to 188.
- As a 2003 op-ed article in the Arizona Republic concluded: “Here’s the bottom line (with taxpayer-financed elections)… We’re left with a system that limits free speech, unfairly favors certain candidates, keeps powerful special interests in the game and drains funds from state priorities.”
Taxpayer-Funded Campaigns Do Not Decrease Special Interest Influence, May Actually Increase the Influence of Special Interest Groups
- Research does not support any claim that taxpayer-subsidized campaigns would change elected officials’ behavior.
- A report by MIT professors Stephen Ansolabehere and James Snyder examined more than 40 academic studies on this topic and concluded that private contributions have little influence on the voting behavior of politicians.
- More than likely, candidates receive support from special interests because the candidates first display sympathy to various groups’ causes, not the other way around.
- Taxpayer-funded campaigns may very well increase the influence of special interests.
- Certain organizations, such as unions, could simply mine their membership rolls for the numerous small donations required to qualify their chosen candidate for the taxpayer-provided campaign funds.
- Therefore, a limited amount of special interest money could leverage hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars toward their chosen candidate’s campaign.
- In the end, the candidate is still beholden to the union, and the union has more dollars to funnel to 527 groups to advocate for their chosen candidate.
- The result is that even more money is entered into the campaign process, special interest influence is magnified, and taxpayers suffer more erosion of their liberty.
Taxpayer-subsidized campaigns do not improve the public’s confidence in government
- University of Missouri professors Jeffrey Milyo and David Primo studied a variety of state-level election laws – including taxpayer-financed campaigns – and found that taxpayer financing laws actually have a negative effect on the public’s opinion of whether or not their voice is heard by government officials.
- The authors offer this explanation: “Public financing may be predicated on false promises for a better democratic process. When the smoke clears and ‘politics as usual’ returns after reform, individuals may become even more disenchanted with their government.”
- Moreover, candidates that know taxpayer dollars will finance their campaign can more easily disregard the opinions of their constituents. Why stay in touch with their concerns when your campaign coffers are swelling with taxpayer dollars?
In light of a struggling economy, high unemployment and budget deficits for local governments across the state, North Carolina lawmakers should not seek to take more money from taxpayers to fill their campaign coffers. In short, House Bill 120 would merely expand a welfare program for politicians, forcing citizens to subsidize ideas they may completely oppose.
Thomas Jefferson once declared, “To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”
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