Public financing of elections (U.S.)

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Public financing of elections in the U.S. generally refers to partial or full government funding of political campaigns during both primary and general elections, as well as funding for national parties and their nominating conventions. At the federal level, the U.S. has [more on the U.S. system of public funding]. At the state level, Arizona, Connecticut, Maine and New Jersey, North Carolina, Vermont, and a number of cities have some level of public financing for state and local elections.

Many groups, including Public Campaign, support publicly financed elections in the U.S. They argue that [more on the arguments in favor of public financing].

Contents

110th Congress

Presidential Funding Act of 2007

Candidates in the 2008 presidential election were expected to spend over $1 billion on the campaign, moving public financing of campaigns toward obsolescence.[1] Members of congress responded by attempting to update the financing program, with both the House and Senate offering the Presidential Funding Act of 2007 (H.R.776) and (S.436). The House legislation, officially introduced on January 31, 2007 by Rep. Martin Meehan (D-Mass.), was sponsored by:


The Senate legislation was sponsored by Sens. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.).


The Presidential Funding Act of 2007 would:

  • Raise spending limits for the presidential primary and general election.
  • Increase the amount of public matching funds available during the primary process.
  • Allow earlier access to public funds in the primary process.
  • Provide additional funds to publicly financed candidates who are significantly outspent by privately financed candidates.
  • Increase the check-off from $3 to $10 for individuals and $6 to $20 for couples.
  • Prohibit national parties from raising or spending soft money for party nominating conventions.[2]

General criticisms and commendations of public financing

Support for public financing

According to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, "campaigns funded principally or entirely by private contributions distort democracy and pull elected officials away from the interests of ordinary, often unorganized citizens." Supporters of public financing argue that privately-financed candidates must spend their time raising funds rather than meeting with and advocating for constituents, and that elected candidates tend to legislate in the interest of the special interests who financed their election campaigns rather than the majority of their average constituents.[3]

Advocates for public financing cite a number of advantages over private financing:

  • Public financing curbs the influence of wealthy donors over politicians.
  • Public financing allows candidates with limited resources to seek office, broadening the prospects for greater citizen participation.
  • Public financing allows politicians to spend more time serving their constituents, and less time raising money.[4]

In a 2006 poll, almost 75 percent of respondents favored a voluntary public financing system, including 80 percent of Democrats and 65 percent of Republicans.[5]

Criticism of public financing

Public participation in the check-off program to fund elections has declined substantially over time. Some commentators have argued that the decline in public support for check-offs suggests that the public does not support publicly financed elections.[6] Others, such as libertarian scholars, argue that public financing both restricts free speech and imposes undesired association. They argue that restricting private funding of elections violates political speech, and thus violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Additionally, some argue that taking taxpayer dollars to fund elections also forces citizens to support candidates with whom they disagree, and candidates they would not otherwise support given the choice. Overall, they argue that "private funding of private political activity is vital to our limited and democratic government."[7]

Opponents of public financing also cite Supreme Court decisions upholding the right to contribute money to political campaigns as a protected right to free speech under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. For example, in the Court's June, 2007 decision rendered on FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life and McCain et al v Wisconsin Right to Life[8], Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority that "the First Amendment requires us to err on the side of protecting political speech rather than suppressing it."[9]

Historical background

In 1828, President John Quincy Adams declared, "The Presidency of the United States was an office neither to be sought nor declined. To pay money for securing it directly or indirectly, was in my opinion incorrect in principle."[10] Every presidential candidate after George Washington raised and used private funds during election campaigns, however. Over time, tensions arose between respecting First Amendment rights to free speech and association and preserving the integrity of the campaign and election processes by limiting the influence of special and private interests.[11]

Given this tension, in the 20th century various restrictions on funding sources were adopted--including limitations to corporate and union contributions, financial disclosure laws, and limits on the size of contributions. In 1907, in his State of the Union Address, President Theodore Roosevelt recommended public financing of federal elections, as well as a ban on private contributions to election efforts.[12]

Not until the mid-1970s did Congress amend the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 to provide for the public financing of presidential elections.[13] In 1976, the first year of public financing for presidential campaigns, $71.4 million was paid out to candidates.[14]

Current public financing of presidential elections

Qualification and funding source

In order to qualify for public funds, presidential candidates must meet eligibility requirements determined by the Federal Election Commission, the body which also determines the amount to be given to each candidate or party at different stages in the election.

Check-off program

Public funds for presidential elections come from U.S. taxpayers who have the option of "checking off" $3 per year on their 1040 federal income tax return forms to be given to the government's Presidential Election Campaign Fund.[15] [16] Only 10 percent of Americans participated in the checkoff program in 2006, while 90 percent of Americans declined to contribute.[17]

Primary funding

Public financing during the primary process is provided through federal "matching funds." Candidates seeking nominations by a party are eligible, and individual contributions of up to $250 are matched by the government. In order to qualify for matching funds, a candidate must receive individual contributions for amounts under $250 which total $5,000 in each of 20 states.[18]

In 2004, the national spending limit during this process, based on Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) to the original $10 million cap, was $37.31 million.[19]

General election funding

Major party candidates in 2004 received $74.26 million for their campaigns based on a COLA adjustment to the original $20 million limit. Minor party candidates are able to receive funds as well if the party's candidate received between 5 and 25 percent of the vote in the preceding presidential election. The amount allocated to a minor party candidate is based on the ratio of the vote that party received in the prior election compared with the vote received by the major party candidates.[20]

If a candidate elects to receive federal funding during the general election, he or she cannot spend privately-raised funds after party nominating conventions.[21]

Movement away from accepting public funding

Candidates have increasingly moved away from accepting public funds, as they can raise more money throughout the primary, nomination, and general election processes through strictly private contributions.[22]

In 2000, George W. Bush became the first major party candidate to decline public funds for the primary process, and in 2004 Bush, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Gov. Howard Dean (D-Vt.) did not accept public funds during the primaries.[23]

In January, 2007, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) declared that she would become the first candidate since the public financing program's inception in 1976 to forgo public funds during both the primary and general election processes, citing spending limitations as a rationale.[24]

Public financing of state and local elections

As of 2007, seven states had full public funding for elected offices, including Arizona, Connecticut, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Vermont. Additionally, two cities, Albuquerque, New Mexico and Portland, Oregon, also had programs.[25]

Arizona

Arizona's legislative races and statewide offices were given access to public financing in 2000 by a ballot initiative.[26] In the 2006 election, 6 out of 8 elected statewide officers used public funding.[27]

Connecticut

Connecticut's legislative races and statewide offices were given access to public financing in 2008 by a legislative mandate.[28]

Maine

Maine's legislative races and statewide offices were given access to public financing in 2000 by a ballot initiative.[29] In 2007, 84 percent of the legislature was represented by candidates who used public funding.[30]

New Jersey

In New Jersey, a pilot program for a limited number of legislative races was established through legislation in 2005.[31]

North Carolina

In North Carolina, legislation allowed public financing for judicial races beginning in 2004.[32] Five of six winners of judicial elections in the 2006 election used public financing.[33]

Vermont

In Vermont, public financing was made available to candidates running for governor and lieutenant governor by legislation in 2000.[34]

New Mexico

In New Mexico, Public Regulation Commission candidates were given access to public funding for their election campaigns through legislation in 2005.[35]

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Beginning in 2007 and established by ballot initiative, Albuquerque publicly funded all citywide elections.[36]

Portland, Oregon

Portland began fully funding citywide contests in 2006 following a legislative mandate.[37]

Articles and resources

See also

References

  1. "Support public financing for Presidential election," Democracy 21, March 8, 2007.
  2. Russ Feingold, "Feingold, Meehan, Shays, Price Work to Fix Broken Presidential Public Financing System," Office of Senator Russ Feingold, January 30, 2007.
  3. "Public Financing," Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, 2007.
  4. "Public Financing," Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, 2007.
  5. "Breaking Free with Fair Elections," Public Citizen, March 2007.
  6. "Fixing the Voluntary Tax Checkoff Program to Fund the Presidential Elections," Public Citizen.
  7. John Samples, "Public Shouldn't Pay," Cato Institute, June 28, 2006.
  8. Robert Barnes, "Supreme Court Eases Limits on 'Issue Ads,'" Washington Post, June 25, 2007
  9. Robert Barnes, "Supreme Court Eases Limits on 'Issue Ads,'" Washington Post, June 25, 2007.
  10. "Politics and Economy: Campaign Finance," PBS, 2004.
  11. "Politics and Economy: Campaign Finance," PBS, 2004.
  12. "Public Funding of Presidential Elections," Federal Election Commission, April 2007.
  13. "Public financing of elections chronology," Federal Election Commission.
  14. Herbert E. Alexander, "FINANCING PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGNS," Issues of Democracy - U.S. Information Agency, September, 1996.
  15. "Public Funding of Presidential Elections," Federal Election Commission, April 2007.
  16. "$3 Tax Checkoff," Federal Election Commission, December 1993.
  17. David. D Kirkpatrick "Death Knell May Be Near for Public Election Funds," New York Times, January 23, 2007.
  18. "Public Funding of Presidential Elections," Federal Election Commission, April 2007.
  19. "Public Funding of Presidential Elections," Federal Election Commission, April 2007.
  20. "Public Funding of Presidential Elections," Federal Election Commission, April 2007.
  21. Peter Overby "Big Campaigns Undermine Public-Financing System," NPR, January 17, 2007.
  22. Peter Overby "Big Campaigns Undermine Public-Financing System," NPR, January 17, 2007.
  23. Peter Overby "Big Campaigns Undermine Public-Financing System," NPR, January 17, 2007.
  24. David. D Kirkpatrick "Death Knell May Be Near for Public Election Funds," New York Times, January 23, 2007.
  25. "Breaking Free with Fair Elections," Public Citizen, March 2007.
  26. "Breaking Free with Fair Elections," Public Citizen, March 2007.
  27. Public Campaign, "Clean Elections Lawmakers: 2006 Results," Public Campaign, January 5, 2007.
  28. "Breaking Free with Fair Elections," Public Citizen, March 2007.
  29. "Breaking Free with Fair Elections," Public Citizen, March 2007.
  30. Public Campaign, "Clean Elections Lawmakers: 2006 Results," Public Campaign, January 5, 2007.
  31. "Breaking Free with Fair Elections," Public Citizen, March 2007.
  32. "Breaking Free with Fair Elections," Public Citizen, March 2007.
  33. Public Campaign, "Clean Elections Lawmakers: 2006 Results," Public Campaign, January 5, 2007.
  34. "Breaking Free with Fair Elections," Public Citizen, March 2007.
  35. "Breaking Free with Fair Elections," Public Citizen, March 2007.
  36. "Breaking Free with Fair Elections," Public Citizen, March 2007.
  37. "Breaking Free with Fair Elections," Public Citizen, March 2007.

External resources

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