Jan 282007
Authors: Drew Haugen

With her bid for the 2008 Presidential Election, Senator Hillary Clinton set off on a path that may lead to an unprecedented political happening in American politics: The first female U.S. president.

But to get to the White House, Hillary made it clear she may achieve another record as well: A Presidential campaign run without the use of any public funds.

With a front-runner for the Democratic nomination like Hilary Clinton stepping away from a public financing system so early in the game, many contend the system is broken and ineffectual.

But as is typical in U.S. public policy, the American public campaign finance system just may need some revamping and rejuvenation.

By accepting public funds from the federal government, candidates are required to submit spending and contribution reports, abide by spending limits, and have their campaign finances regulated by the Federal Election Commission.

By forgoing public funds well-financed candidates the likes of Senators John McCain, Barack Obama and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (all of whom are considering opting out of public funds) can spend as much money as they raise for the primary and general elections, outside of the spending limits imposed by the FEC.

The current system of public campaign financing, adopted following the Watergate scandal, was an attempt to increase the transparency of elections and to stem the flow of “soft money” from individuals and corporations to candidates.

But this post-Watergate system has fallen short of its original goals and is in disrepair. So why try? Why support a faulty system with taxpayer money that fails to legitimize elections?

Because it can be fixed to work, and our politics will be rewarded as a result.

One of the largest concerns with contemporary American politics is the sometimes unscrupulous relationship between politicians and the financiers of their campaigns.

If that financial relationship between powerful campaign contributors and candidates could be minimized or eliminated, politicians would be free to pursue an agenda favoring their constituency.

Public funding affords lesser known candidates the financial ability to run for office, leveling the playing field for new candidates and expanding options for voters. What’s more, it disconnects campaign contributors from candidates.

Maine and Arizona were the first states to adopt measures for public campaign financing. Candidates must prove they are not “fringe” candidates by raising an amount of small contributions ($5-10), but then qualify for state funds for their campaign.

What’s to stop an incumbent candidate from raising private money and forgoing public funds to have unlimited spending and unfair advantage? Any spending by a candidate who forgoes public financing will be matched by the state for the publicly-funded candidate.

In 2002, Maine and Arizona had a chance to test their new public campaign systems. The majority of candidates were publicly funded as well as the majority of elected candidates, and more candidates had less financial ties to donors.

These systems are also achieved with little consequence to the tax-paying public: In Arizona, support of the system costs tax-payers approximately $3.60 a year.

But current public funding systems have weak financial power when compared with the costs of running a successful campaign, especially on the national level. With increasing costs of television and other media campaign advertising, it’s no wonder candidates are opting to spend as much as they can.

Although it may be as exorbitant as $10-15 per taxpayer a year, effective government subsidization, if not complete funding of political campaigns, would take the pressure to appease contributors off of candidates’ backs.

Without effective public campaign funding, candidates may soon take Hillary’s less traveled path of unlimited fundraising.

Public campaign funding needs to be improved because, in the end, it takes power from wealthy campaign contributors, PACs, and special interests and increases the power of the common vote.

Drew Haugen is a senior international studies major. His column appears every Monday in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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