Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Campaign Finance Reform Only Makes Matters Worse

LaVarr included in today’s Utah Policy an article by Craig Axford and Laura Bonham, co-chairs of the Utah Democratic Progressive Caucus. In it they decry the high cost of running for public office and they issue a clarion call for public (government) funding of elections. I sent LaVarr the following response.

I strongly disagree with Mr. Axford and Ms. Bonham's article promoting public election funding. Politics is a business and the laws of economics that apply to business simply cannot be circumvented. As Adam Smith noted, government intervention in any free market causes shortages, black markets, and lower quality goods.

Axford and Bonham suggest public funding for "qualified candidates able to demonstrate a reasonable level of public support." Who will control what constitutes a qualified candidate if not the electorate? What is a reasonable level of public support? How will prospective candidates achieve it without spending money?

The reason an average Congressional race costs nearly $1 Million is that the market demands it. This is Econ 101 stuff. Public funding will not change the math substantially. It will only make it go deeper underground and will actually end up further limiting who can run for office.

The idea that politics is not open to the middle class is a red herring. Multiple examples exist that defy that argument. For example, Rob Bishop was a high school teacher when he undertook his run for Congress, yet he amassed sufficient support to run a successful campaign. Our system demands candidates that actually have the fire and determination to run for office.

I am not saying that our political system is without flaws. We have built a huge bulwark to protect incumbents throughout the system. But campaign finance reform is not going to solve the problems. It is not likely that people in office will approve changes that will threaten themselves. McCain-Feingold passed because Congressional delegates knew that it wouldn't substantially harm them.

Ultimately, the responsibility for the state of our political affairs derives to the people. When they feel that problems in the system are sufficient to warrant real change they will exert their prerogative to force those changes. I favor the free market approach to this. More government meddling will create new problems and exacerbate existing ones rather than solving them. Give more power and responsibility to the electorate; not less.


steve u. said...

I agree with you that government funding of candidates is a bad idea. Where do we start and stop? There are MANY parties and candidates; they all should get a shot, but taxpayers don't want to fund the Party for Niceness to 3-Legged Dogs.

But I think campaign reform laws are primarily incumbency protection laws. Political speech is vital -- the ability to say that the emperor has no clothes or that he's a bum or that he reminds you of the mean man who lived on the corner and you just can't stand that or anything under the sun without any threat of repercussion. That is a pretty key nugget in ensuring a very free society. Remember, I am "one of those guys." And believe me, I understand the tremendous power of incumbency. Any time I want to be on the radio or in the newspaper in my district, I simply pick up the phone. Because I am actually helping make some of the news, some of the things I have to say are newsworthy. And, elected leaders should keep constituents informed by broadcasting government's activities. But should we assume that these appearances have no "political" purpose? Go right ahead, if you want. Someone wanting to run against me probably wouldn't have that luxury with the media. But to beat me, he'd have to get his message out. And he'd likely have to pay some shekels to do it. If you value his ability to say he could do a better job than me and throw his hat in the ring, you have to allow him to gather money to do it (hopefully, I'm just talking about a fictional person here). Your political free speech loses real meaning, if you are free to say I'm a bum but you can't fund a candidate to run against me. You'd be encouraging me to ignore you (if I knew you couldn't touch me politically), instead of forcing me to pay attention to you and govern better. I say let candidates get money just about anywhere but disclose the heck out of it.

Another point. Is campaign spending out of control? I'd be interested in knowing the total amounts of money spent in the last presidential election and yearly on the New York Yankees' payroll.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Thanks, Steve. I feel validated. But blogging at 1:44 AM? Do you ever do the sleep thing?