Creating a public financed campaign system in our city would create
a more participatory democratic society. It would create a level
playing field for all citizens regardless of their economic
situation or institutional influence. Voting would have significant
more power and thus hopefully more people would participate.
I've been Treasurer for many party units, candidates, and joint
campaigns over the years.
I just can't see that public financed campaigns would solve all these
problems. Just change to different problems.
Here's some that I see:
1. Adequacy of public financing. Would the amounts budgeted for this
be adequate to run a campaign? Given that the City has trouble right
now budgeting enough for things like police & fire, I have my
doubts. Especially when there is an incentive NOT to fund it --
incumbents are already known, and don't have to spend as much getting
their name out, so inadequate campaign funds generally helps the
incumbent. Then why would they budget more money into a system that
their opponents need more than they do?
And would the amounts stay adequate over the years? Look at
the State of Minnesota's Political Contribution Refund
program. Though a great & innovative idea when it was passed (31
years ago), it's becoming more & more irrelevant nowdays. Because
the amount has only been changed once (20 years ago), inflation has
made it so small as to be nearly irrelevant. More & more candidates
are deciding it's better for them to forgo participating in this
program altogether. And it means less and less for the contributors, too.
And remember that you can't put a limit on campaign
spending; the Supreme Court struck down that part of the law soon
after it was passed. First Amendment rights are clear there.
2. Also, you can't limit the right of people (as individuals,
political parties, or PACs) to spend their money supporting
candidates they like. So you would have lots more of the
'independent expenditure' type of campaign ads or mailings. And
there are often questions about how 'independent' they are -- look at
Gov. Pawlenty's campaign for an obvious example of that!
Not that the 2 Park Board groups that started this
discussion are both of this independent expenditure type. Public
Financing of the candidate's campaigns would have absolutely no
control over how these 2 groups spent their money for their supported
candidates. So I can't see how this would be a level playing
field. Those with money could just stay off the field, and create
their own independent groups to mount huge fans on the sidelines.
Soon the official candidates' committee spending would be minor
compared to these independent groups.
3. Finally, ay time government is giving money, they can start to put
strings on it.
Currently, there are extensive reporting requirements for
campaign finance. And more are regularly suggested (often right on
this list!). There are fines and charges if you fail to meet these
reporting requirements. There is pressure from the State to use
their suggested software to do your reporting. (That software
started out pretty mediocre, with at least one major security
breach. It's been upgraded, and now is pretty good.) But they want
to force everybody to use it. There are requirements about accepting
non-check contributions that appear to work against grassroots
contributions from low-income people.
And these regulations could be extended.
What about adding a Davis-Bacon type restriction on this: public
campaign funding can only be spent at businesses that pay prevailing
('union') wages? Our DFL candidates generally do this already, but
what anti-union Republican candidates think of such a restriction?
I don't see this solving the problems at all.
Tim Bonham, Ward 12, Standish-Ericsson
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