Monday, February 05, 2007

In defense of publicly financed presidential campaigns

We find the editorial in this morning’s New York Sun about the presidential public financing system to be severely misguided. The Sun argues, like Senator Mitch McConnell in the New York Times several weeks ago, that the low incidence of taxpayers choosing to contribute to the program is evidence that the public believes the system should be abolished:
We have a theory as to why this is so. It's because American voters are nothing if not smart...Every taxpayer has had a chance to check this box...It's right there prominently on the tax form...The vast majority of American taxpayers just don't want anything to do with the idea of public funding of campaigns.
Ignoring for a moment the fact that many polls actually show public financing to be popular with voters across party lines, we take issue with the assumption that the unpopularity of the current system is evidence that voters are against it.

The Brennan Center commissioned a study last year to test why taxpayers do or do not check off the election fund box. It turns out that two-thirds of those polled lacked basic knowledge about the fund.

This phenomenon isn’t hard to explain. The fund was established after Watergate, which means that many taxpayers were born after its implementation. Moreover, the last major public education effort on the fund was in 1993. One of our bloggers, born in 1984, missed this education campaign because she was a third grader distracted by Clifford books and spelling bees.

The point is that taxpayers who lack familiarity with the fund are less inclined to participate. This lack of participation, though, cannot be used as evidence that people fundamentally disagree with the aim of the system.

Voters are sick of the influence of money in politics. An education campaign explaining how public financing puts political power back into the hands of ordinary voters would dramatically raise taxpayer participation.

We recognize that the current system has become outdated, but this does not mean that it should be dismantled. Indeed, public financing should be revived, revamped, and widely publicized to make it a viable alternative to today's special interest-saturated elections.

Categories: General, Campaign Finance

1 comment:

Craig Dunkerley said...

I couldn't agree more. It's simply incorrect to say Americans don't want public financing when the truth is that most don't really understand what it is or why they would benefit from it. Public Campaign did a poll of voters who did understand what public financing was and they favored it by 74%. (For more info see or