There’s nothing we like more than receiving comments, so we want to thank Chris Paige for his very thoughtful comment about yesterday’s post. I don’t have all the answers, but I did want to respond to Chris’s two main questions: how do we decide which candidates receive public financing and how do challengers overcome incumbent advantage?
One objective way to decide which candidates to include in public financing is to set a threshold of viability. In most public financing programs that are currently in place, candidates must collect a certain number of what are known as qualifying contributions. Gubernatorial candidates in Arizona, for example, must collect $5 contributions from at least 4,200 people.
If this type of viability threshold isn't enough to rule out a neo-nazi candidate, then we're in a lot more trouble than just that candidate receiving public financing! But that's democracy--a battle of ideas. Public financing enhances democracy by allowing candidates with a certain threshold of support to make their ideas part of the public debate.
Nothing is a panacea, and incumbents will always have certain advantages (how do you counter name recognition, for example?), but public financing goes a long way toward giving novice candidates with public support but few ties to big money a real opportunity to get their message out and compete in an election.
--Suzanne Novak, Deputy Director, Democracy Program