By Joan Mandle, Democracy Matters
- NOT WITH MY TAXES, YOU DON’T.
Many people are concerned that public financing will raise taxes. But taxpayers actually save money if politicians are not funded by special interests in return for tax breaks, special favors, and government bailouts. Only public financing can ensure that tax dollars are spent in the interests of all the people, not wasted in order to pay back campaign contributors.
It is estimated that public financing would cost less than $10 a year for each taxpayer in the United States. (In states and cities with public financing systems it costs even less!) It would mean that politicians would be working for all the people, not just those who fund their campaigns. Ten dollars a year seems little to pay in order to ensure a true democracy, where everyone has an equal say in the votes cast by elected officials.
- I DON’T WANT TO SUPPORT CORRUPT POLITICIANS OR DAVID DUKE.
Public financing will support all eligible and serious candidates. Criteria are set to make sure that candidates with no real support cannot qualify for public funds. However, all serious candidates will have an equal chance to qualify for public financing, regardless of their views. This is democracy at work – everyone has an equal chance to air their opinions, as well as to object to the views of others.
Voters in this system will – for the first time – have a real choice among a wide diversity of candidates. If a politician is corrupt or has loathsome views, challengers supported by public financing will be able to communicate this information to the voters. In the present system anyone with offensive views can run if she/he has the money. Public financing gives voters more choice, more information, and more diversity of candidates. Together these help create a strong democracy.
- NO ONE CARES ABOUT CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM.
Polling indicates that there is widespread concern about our electoral process. Polls have shown that a large majority believes that big money is corrupting our political system and favors getting private money out of politics. They understand the extent to which big private money is silencing the voices of ordinary citizens.
Citizens in Maine, Arizona, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Vermont, New Mexico, New York City, Los Angeles, and Albuquerque, NM care so much about full public financing that they have fought for and won public financing laws in their cities and states.
- I WON’T SUPPORT WASTEFUL SPENDING.
The best way to rid our government of wasteful spending is to eliminate the dependence of politicians on wealthy donors and special interests who want pay-backs for their funding of campaigns. This is the heart of the corruption that regularly returns incumbents to office with their huge fund- raising advantage over challengers. Typically 95%-99% of Congressional incumbents are re-elected and returned to office, even though Congress’s public approval rating is below 20%. Typically the average Congressional incumbent candidate will spend 4 or 5 times more money than their challengers. With public financing, the playing field is more even among candidates, and when publicly financed candidates are elected, our tax dollars go where they belong — to public needs rather to pay back wealthy special interests. That’s the real source of waste.
- THE RICH WILL ALWAYS PREVAIL BY OUTSPENDING EVERYONE.
The system of public financing is voluntary. A candidate who refuses to take public funds and abide by spending limits can raise and spend as much as he or she wants to. However, public financing offers other candidates the chance to get their message out to the public to win support. After a certain point, additional spending does not mean as much. In addition, publicly funded candidates can and do point out that unlike those dependent on private funding, if elected they will be beholden to all the people and not just to big campaign funders. Maine and Arizona have shown that publicly financed candidates can be elected even if outspent. In those states between 70 and 85% of elected officials have run with public financing.
- THIS HAS NEVER WORKED BEFORE.
Public financing systems have been working well for decades in a number of states and cities. This experience proves that the system deepens democracy. Presidential public financing worked well for over 30 years. Furthermore, in almost all democratic countries other than the United States, including Canada, Australia, France, and Germany, extensive systems of public financing are in place. Public financing has created more competitive elections, more diverse candidates, less power to big funders, and real choice for voters.
- I AM TOO BUSY WORKING TO PROTECT THE ENVIRONMENT, FOR WOMEN’S AND CIVIL RIGHTS, FOR HEALTH CARE, OR GLOBAL JUSTICE.
Public financing of elections affects ALL the issues mentioned above and hundreds of others as well. Public financing is the reform that allows all other reforms to be accomplished. It ensures that elected officials are responsive to the majority of the electorate rather than to the tiny elite that funds their campaigns. By providing public funding for campaigns of those who care about the environment, about America’s role in the world, about education spending, heath care, civil rights and so much more, we can elect legislatures willing to vote for the reforms that most Americans support.
- IT’S UNCONSTITUTIONAL.
The courts have consistently upheld the public financing of election campaigns as constitutional. They have however – including the Supreme Court in its Buckley v Valeo decision – consistently expressed concern about reforms that would limit the amount of contributions to or spending in campaigns. They have done so primarily because of free speech considerations – the argument that to constrain contributions or spending would limit the political discourse.
But public financing does just the opposite. It allows for more political speech by a larger and more diverse group of candidates. In that sense, it enhances free speech by providing more individuals an opportunity to get their political message out to the public and perhaps be elected to office as a result. With the fair funding that public financing represents, not only those who can call on wealthy special interests to fund their campaigns can speak, but anyone who is a serious candidate. Rather than limiting it, public financing broadens the political dialogue and in this way enhances democracy. Though the conservative members of the Supreme Court are attacking campaign finance reform, they have not been able to destroy public campaign financing because they believe it is consistent with the Constitution.
- FULL DISCLOSURE and ETHICS REFORMS ARE ENOUGH.
Full disclosure of the names and occupations of major campaign contributors of course is essential to the democratic process. The public has the right to know to whom and to what interests its elected officials are beholden. Electronic filing — using the internet to enhance disclosure — is an important step in giving the public access to this information. Strong ethics laws that can respond to the many money scandals are critical as well. And we need disclosure of “dark money” and independent Super-PAC spending.
However, these reforms are not enough. Disclosure is the law in most elections and yet this has done nothing to stop the flood of money to candidates. It is not realistic to expect that in a country where less than half the people even vote, most citizens will make the effort and devote the time needed to analyze political contributions.
Only the public financing of elections can ensure a more level playing field so that donations to candidates are not the prime determinant of who runs, who is elected, and what social policies they support. Only public financing can create a democracy in which any citizen can run for office, where merit rather than money decides who wins, and where all citizens can have an equal influence in elections.
- THE PRESIDENTIAL PUBLIC FINANCING SYSTEM IS BROKEN.
The Presidential public financing system was created in 1976 as part of Federal Election Campaign Act. Congress thought that the Presidential race was so important that candidates should not have to depend on wealth or the ability to raise large sums of money. In addition there was concern (even then!) that constant increases in campaign spending were spiraling out of control. The Congress gave Presidential candidates the option to limit their spending and in turn receive public financing – partial matching funds in the primary and full funding in the general election. Every candidate for President participated in this public financing system until 2000, when George Bush refused public matching funds in the primary in favor raising private funds for his campaign. The Congress neglected to raise the amount of public funds available to candidates and so by 2008 most major candidates were not participating in the public system because it underfunded them and they could raise much more by taking private money.
However, the breakdown of the Presidential public financing system does not mean that public financing can’t work. What it shows is that we need a better system of public financing– like the one that is working so well in states and cities. And the Presidential public financing system needs to be fixed by providing generous public funding to candidates.
- PRIVATELY FINANCED ELECTIONS DON’T COST TAXPAYERS ANYTHING.
The actual cost of privately funded elections may not come from tax money but the consequences of this system are costing taxpayers billions of dollars. These consequences include myriad tax breaks, subsidies, regulatory exemptions, bail-outs and other favors that elected officials regularly perform for their financial backers. As Public Campaign reported: “Every year, the average American taxpayer shells out more than $1000 in federal income taxes so the government can keep some very important taxpayers on welfare. Those taxpayers are better known as corporations, and according to a trenchant series in Time magazine by investigative reporters Donald Barlett and James Steele, a privileged group of well-connected and savvy businesses milk $125 billion a year out of the U.S. Treasury in grants, subsidies, low-interest loans, tax credits, exemptions, deductions and deferrals.“.
There are serious costs also in costly government policies that the majority of the American people disagree with, like the trillions of dollars in military spending in the Middle East, or the investment in the development of fossil fuels rather than renewable energy.
- SPECIAL INTERESTS BALANCE EACH OTHER OUT.
There is a vast array of “special interests” who try to influence legislation. But some are more powerful than others. Here are just a few examples of total contributions to federal campaigns and parties from 1990 to 2014 (Center for Responsive Politics https://www.opensecrets.org/industries/
Energy and Natural Resource Industries $365 Million
Pro-Environment Contributions 130 Million
Finance, Real Estate & Insurance $3.8 Billion
Misc. Business 2.3 Billion
Agribusiness 698 Million
Labor $1.2 Billion
Liberal Ideology 144.3 Million
Gun Rights $34.1Million
Gun Control 2.0 Million
- MONEY ONLY BUYS ACCESS – NOT VOTES.
“Senators and representatives, faced constantly with the need to raise ever more money to fuel their campaigns, can scarcely avoid weighing every decision against the question ‘How will this affect my fundraising prospects?’ rather than ‘How will this affect the national interest?’” former US Senator Barry Goldwater (R –Arizona)
“What goes on every day in Sacramento is that the same lobbyist comes in, and on Monday he talks to you about how he’s arranging for a campaign contribution from a client. And on Tuesday he comes back and asks you to vote on a piece of legislation for that same client.” former State Senator Alan Robbins (D – California)
“The payoff may be as obvious and overt as a floor vote in favor of a contributors’ desired tax loophole or appropriation. Or it may be subtle…a floor speech not delivered…a bill pigeon-holed in subcommittee…an amendment not offered, or a private conversation with four or five key colleagues in the privacy of the cloakroom.” former US Senator William Proxmire (D-Wisconsin)
- CONTRIBUTING MONEY IS AN IMPORTANT WAY TO PARTICIPATE.
Making sure that citizens participate in a democracy is important, but it is just as important to make sure that everyone has an equal opportunity to participate. That’s why each citizen has one and only one vote. But because wealth is so unequally distributed in the United States, not everyone has an equal opportunity to participate by contributing funds to candidates. In fact, in our privately funded campaign system, contributing to campaigns violates the ideal of equality in a democracy, for only those with money can spend the maximum and have the maximum influence. In most elections less than 1% of citizens contribute significantly (more than $200) to political candidates. That means those people and interests use their wealth to have greater influence – to participate more, while others are silenced by their inability to contribute large amount.
Although a few candidates, have successfully used the internet to attract many small donors, the fact remains that the majority of their funding came from traditional big donors, based in the corporate sector. And in the Congress, the role of small donors has actually DECLINED over time while the power of mega-donors has increased. Fair Elections public financing is a real small donor system! It matches small donations with public funds (often with six public dollars for every dollar raised – as in New York City.) Candidates elected by public financing systems do not have to be rich and are not dependent on rich donors. Once elected they are accountable to their donors – the public — not to the wealthy 1%!
- CONGRESS WILL NEVER PASS A BILL FOR PUBLIC FINANCING.
Never is a very long time, and things change rapidly in politics! Every year since 2010 the Fair Elections Now Act and Government by the People Act have been introduced as Congressional bills. Both include public financing and other reforms. By 2015, there were over 130 co-sponsors in the House including the Speaker of the House who endorsed this legislation, and many in the Senate as well. Senator Durbin, sponsor of Fair Elections, has stated that the banks own Congress and said he will continue to fight for this legislation because democracy can’t afford to be destroyed by the flood of money to Congressional campaigns. What Congress needs is a strong grassroots social movement (like the kind Democracy Matters and our allies are building) to force it to do what is right and pass this legislation (just as the civil rights movement forced Congress to pass civil rights legislation, and the environmental movement of the ‘70s forced passage of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.)
- I’VE GIVEN UP ON REFORM SINCE CITIZENS UNITED & McCUTCHEON
It’s certainly true that the 2010 Supreme Court decision unleashing unlimited corporate spending on political speech through SuperPacs, and its McCutcheon decision two years later have made the problem of corporate big money influence in politics much worse.
BUT that is exactly why we are building a national grassroots movement for reform. Both the efforts to reverse Citizens United and the fight to create a public financing option for candidates are even more important now. That is the only way candidates and our political system can be independent of the total domination by corporate money. Over 80% of Americans disagreed with Citizens United and McCutcheon.
People from all walks of life are outraged by increasing flood of corporate money in each election cycle. They want a government of, by, and for the people — not the corporations. We need to join together to save our democracy. If not you… then who? If not now… then when? Join us!!
Consult the following websites for up-to-date information on money and politics: