March 10, 2006
Public financing: How about trying the front door?
By Bill Kraus
There isn’t enough evidence in to be conclusive, but the case for putting significant public money into political campaigns is decidedly encouraging.
In those states where overt public money goes into campaigns, more candidates run, more races are competitive, more people vote, less money is spent on campaigns, and, perhaps most importantly, the feeling that government is for sale, that representative government represents money more than people diminishes.
But to get all those good things, the idea that putting tax money into campaigns is a form of welfare for politicians has to be overcome.
Actually we have had covert public money in campaigns for a long time. That check-off on our income tax return that sends money to a campaign kitty instead of to the state treasury is public money no matter how the obfuscators have tried to characterize it.
And now the trial of former speaker Scott Jensen has made it clear that we have been putting really serious public money into campaigns in the form of “in kind” contributions as well.
All those people who have been raising money for candidates, managing campaigns, preparing advertising materials, advising, helping, recruiting, supporting in myriad ways have been paid with what may be millions of tax dollars. Covertly.
So the philosophical objection is not really the issue. It is, in short, phony not philosophical. As long as taxpayers are paying for campaigning on the sly, it’s okay?
Now that the cat is out of the bag perhaps the stigma of public money for politics is less stigmatizing? Let’s hope so. If it is, we can come out of the closet and get the kinds of benefits mentioned earlier that states that have openly turned to significant public financing as a political cleansing agent.
The law of unintended consequences takes interesting turns. Certainly by going to trial and letting everyone see how money flows Scott Jensen didn’t think he would make the case for public financing of campaigns. But he has.
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