This Editorial originally provided by USA Today

December 12, 2007

Opposing view: No welfare for politicians

Tax funding schemes entrench status quo, empower insiders.

By Bradley A. Smith

Next year, more candidates than ever will have the funds needed to get their messages to voters. That's because 2008 is shaping up to be the best-financed campaign in history.

But some people aren't celebrating this diversity of messages. Supporters of campaign finance and speech regulation, in the name of "reform," want to expand government subsidized campaigns. Behind the rhetoric of "clean" elections is a system that suppresses political speech by ordinary citizens, decreases confidence in government and produces none of what it promises.

The last major campaign finance law, known as McCain-Feingold, required the independent audit and investigative arm of Congress, the Government Accountability Office, to study government financing systems in Maine and Arizona, states that proponents cited as exemplary of the alleged benefits of government financing.

The GAO concluded that taxpayer-funded elections had no discernable positive effect on electoral competition, voter choice, interest group influence or voter participation.

Proponents of tax financing now act as if the study they demanded never took place.

But even worse than failing to deliver on its promised results, tax financing can erode confidence in government. Political scientists Jeffrey Milyo and David Primo found that it negatively affects whether people feel "they have a say" in government or whether "officials care" about the public interest.

Tax funding of campaigns is supposed to reduce special-interest influence. But since Maine's program began, the number of lobbyists in the state has increased dramatically. And in Arizona, Gov. Janet Napolitano relied heavily on labor unions to do the work needed for her to receive the government subsidy. Additionally, most taxpayer-financing schemes only further entrench the status quo and empower political insiders by penalizing independent citizen speech.

And, as usual, there is waste. A candidate for governor in Maine used taxpayer dollars to pay her husband nearly $100,000 in consulting fees. In Arizona, public money was used to "campaign" in nightclubs and to buy a frozen drink maker.

Tax financing of campaigns takes your money and gives it to someone else so that person can run against the things in which you believe. Such a welfare system for politicians will not cure our system. Real reform will occur only after citizens are freed of government restraints on their political speech. Call it "the First Amendment solution."

Bradley A. Smith is chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics and former chairman of the Federal Election Commission.


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