Friday, January 26, 2007

The crumbling public financing system for presidential campaigns

With the 2008 presidential race sure to see the largest sums of money raised on either side in history, Sen. Hillary Clinton has already waved off federal funds for the general election. As the FEC rules currently stand, candidates would have to agree to cap spending at $45 million during the primaries to qualify for matching funds and hold general-election spending to $75 million. But herein lies the problem - these races are beginning to cost 100 million just for someone to really compete in the top-tier of candidates and thus, there's no incentive for any candidate in that group to take matching funds since it'd just leave them at a monetary disadvantage. Also, the matching funds wouldn't arrive until January 2008, in which the first 4 primary/caucuses take place (and will likely decide the nominee if last year is any indication), so it's too late for anyone to effectively use.

Now a bill introduced last year and slated to be reintroduced in the new Congress would release primary-campaign funds six months earlier, significantly boost spending caps ($150 million for the primaries and $100 million for the general election), and raise the rate at which private donations get matched. And if one candidate opts out of the system and runs against a candidate who agrees to federal spending caps, the FEC would pump extra money into the participant's coffers to close the spending gap, if his or her opponent spends more than 120 percent of the FEC's limits.

While this would perhaps be better than the current system, it really ignores the central problem that candidates need to raise and spend so much money in these races. And the more private money raised, the more these candidates are indebted to those private donors. That's why we should move to a 100% public financing system for all federal elections. But removing private donations, we remove the special interests behind them, and equal campaign dollars for candidates will level the playing field so that it's their stances on issues that matter, not the number of negative TV ads they can buy.

Some critics of this proposal argue that transparency is all that is needed, but one wonders what they are talking about. Truthfully, you can already trace where money is coming from to a large extent, but the average voter doesn't have time to do that. And by the time they read any fishy connections in the newpaper (if they are reported), they've already been effected by the advertisements that money has bought. Besides, since every serious candidate running for office has to take money from private interests, voters can't choose not to vote for one of them!

Others simply complain about the cost (though most studies suggest it wouldn't have to be that high to the average taxpayer). Well, to that I say that the thought of a special interest-free government based on the power of ideas rather than the amount of money spent is well worth any extra cost to me.


Xanthippas said...

Amen brother. People may balk at the additional expense (though it's not that much more expensive), but what about the cost to our society where only peeople who have big names and are willing to indebt themselves to private donrs can afford to run?

Nat-Wu said...

I'm with you on that one.