Clear Fog Blog

Political musings from Warren E. Peterson

Public Financing of Campaigns

Posted by Warren Peterson on May 11, 2008

They are after your tax dollars again. Proposals for public campaign financing are being floated in Seattle and King County. The latest comes from King County Councilmember Bob Ferguson for a “pilot program” to use tax dollars to fund King County Council campaigns. Pilot programs have a way of becoming permanent line items in budgets. Considering that King County is forecasting a $70 million dollar budget shortfall, shouldn’t council members be looking for ways to reduce spending not increase it? But if you are a liberal Democrat, budget cuts are unthinkable, spending increases are not.

Taxpayer campaign financing is not a new idea. It has been proposed before as a means of reducing the influence of money and special interests. Contribution limits and public disclosure laws have successfully addressed this issue, not to mention voter pamphlets, ratings by the Municipal League and other groups and newspaper coverage of candidates. Proponents also claim underrepresented communities (read women, sexual and racial minorities) have a better chance to compete if the taxpayers are forced to pay for their campaigns for public office. Looking across the State of Washington from the governor to the legislature to King County and Seattle’s elected officials, diversity doesn’t seem to be a critical problem.

Not enough people are attracted to run for office, especially against incumbents, so “new ideas are kept out of the political process”, so say supporters of public financing. I suggest there are a myriad of opportunities to present “new ideas” that don’t cost any money. Testify before government bodies, letters to the editor, talk radio, the Internet, community groups to name a few. More likely, people don’t run because they see the abuse elected officials take and the frustration of trying to get anything done. Can you say Alaska Way Viaduct?

Personally, I’m not interested in some candidate using my tax dollars to run for office just to promote his or her special interest or pet peeve. Nor do I support government sponsored candidate affirmative action. I do want candidates who demonstrate their commitment and a broad base of support by raising their own campaign funds under existing limitations. Seeing who contributes (data is on line) gives me a better idea of where the candidates stand on issues important to me. With public financing, this information is hidden. I don’t want to pay for people to run for office who lack the education, experience and knowledge to prepare and analyze a budget, understand social and economic effects of their decisions and have a broad perspective. In short, people who are qualified for the office they seek. We don’t always get that under the current system. Public financing of campaigns would make it worse.

Mr. Ferguson is holding an open meeting on public financing of campaigns Monday, May 19 at the Shoreline Conference Center, 18560 1st Ave NE in the City of Shoreline at 6pm (meeting starts at 6:30pm).

If no one shows up to object, open your wallet. The next candidate you see may be running on your tax dollars.

(Unfortunately, I will be out of town on May 19 but I am sending this article to the councilmember.)

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3 Responses to “Public Financing of Campaigns”

  1. DopioLover said

    Wouldn’t spending limit on how much one can spend on a given campaign be far more efficient than public financing to curb off the money influence issue? Surely, there will have to be a limit on the public money, and if the campaigners still use money from his own coffer or fund-raising, what’s the point of publicly supported campaign?

  2. Wally said

    It’s an incumbent protection program, and most places that have it allow candidates to opt-out, so whoever thinks they can raise more money usually opts-out and the whole thing is moot.

  3. ivoryhalo said

    Limiting spending on campaigns is illegal (limiting contributions is not). Also, if one chooses to use the public money, they are not allowed to use outside funds, including their own coffer.

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