Monday, March 31, 2008

Public Financing for New York and Congress

Today's Buffalo News ponders the qualifications for congressional candidates, concluding that a willingness to throw at least a few hundred thousand dollars at the race doesn't hurt. They report that at least 8 wealthy western New Yorkers have their personal checkbooks out on both the Republican and Democratic sides to replace outgoing Republican Congressman Tom Reynolds.

Millionaire candidates, like those quoted in the BN story, often argue that self-financing means that, if elected, they are beholden to no one. But others contend that self-financing severs the important ties between candidates and local interests that are represented by campaign donations.

As I've argued elsewhere, public financing is a healthier way to insulate candidates from the corrupting influence of campaign contributions while still retaining their connection to the voters. In full public financing systems, candidates become eligible for a public grant by collecting a number of small qualifying contributions, thereby demonstrating their strength as candidates and freeing them from endless fundraising. In partial public financing schemes, candidates must still do some fundraising, but public matching funds encourage them to collect small contributions as they connect with voters, rather than relying on big donors.

Public financing is an important idea to consider on both the state and federal levels as the impression of individuals and special interests buying elections continues to grow.

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