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Why I’m Against Public Financing of Elections

Updated on May 25, 2013

Public financing of campaigns, often called “Clean Elections”, is when public money collected through taxes and fees (government treasury money) is used to help fund local, state or national political campaigns. This usually happens through government matching of donations, one to one or in another ratio, or given in a flat amount for a specific campaign. While I am not entirely against a system of public financing for elections, I am completely against the use of public financing under the current election laws in the United States.

The main reason I am against public financing of elections is that the public shouldn’t fund elections until elections benefit the public, most of the public, and not only the rich and large corporations. Why should the public fund yet another plutocratic enterprise when they get nothing from it?

Public financing of elections doesn’t address the real problems with our electoral system. The problems are numerous and include:

1. Gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is the process in which the two political parties create unwieldy districts to eliminate competition and guarantee electoral victory for their party’s candidate. Public financing would not change that.

Illinois District 4
Illinois District 4 | Source

2. Cost of campaigning. As long as millionaires, billionaires and PACs can fund campaigns without limit, public money will make little difference in who gets elected. Campaign costs are too high and unless you address the cost issue, it won’t matter if there is some public financing of elections. In 2012, Democrats spent $485 million and Republicans $615 million for the House seats alone. How much difference will my $50 dollar donation make when Sheldon Adelson can donate millions? Public financing will never be able to compete with private and corporate donations under our current laws.

3. The filibuster. The filibuster makes a 51 seat majority in the Senate mute. A mere 21 states that represent only 11% of the population can garner the 41 votes needed to stop legislation in the Senate. How democratic is that? Why fund elections publicly when the will of the people will then be ignored by the filibuster?

4. Public financing won’t change our two-party monopoly. If a publicly funded candidate runs as a Democrat or Republican, the same two-party system prevails after the elections. If a candidate uses public financing and runs as a third-party candidate, they have almost no chance of winning an election.

5. Why fund elections publicly when our vote is under attack? Since 2010, at least a dozen states passed laws that would restrict voting. Over a dozen such laws passed in North Carolina alone. As long as our vote is threatened by plutocrats who want to suppress the vote, public financing won’t make a difference.

Clean election laws for public financing can increase competitiveness in local elections, but only marginally. Public financing is weakly correlated with a reduction of incumbent re-elections in Arizona and Maine.

Public financing is a band-aid that doesn’t address the real problems with our elections. Its use can lead us to ignore real reforms like instant run-off voting, proportional representation and other electoral structures that have been proven to increase voting and competition.

I won’t give one dime of my money to support the campaigns of plutocrats, or unelectable third-party candidates, while there are no reasonable limits on campaign expenditures and lobbying. Our money can be used in better ways where it will make a difference, like donating it to a local charity of your choice.

Tex Shelters


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