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.