Monday, August 21, 2006

Clean Elections Legislation 101: An exchange with Brian McLain

On Thursday, I published the questionnaire response from Brian McLain, and that's sparked a discussion that has raised almost every misconception about Clean Elections legislation, so I figured I'd re-post it here, refute some of the misconceptions, and in the process make sure the rest of my readers understand how Clean Elections legislation works as well.

In his response to the questionnaire, McLain said he does not support public financing of campaigns. In his rating, I said "Clean elections are a deal-breaker for me, but once you get past that, he's good on most issues."

Brian said:

I gues I'm curious how my disagreement of publicly funded campaigns implies that I do not support clean elections. Please explain.


For this point I do owe an apology. Once I got around Matt trying to put words in my mouth, I explained:

By "Clean Elections," I was referring to a "Clean Elections Act," like those in Maine and Arizona. These are the laws that allow for public financing of campaigns in these states. So while you're not against clean campaigns, you said you are against Clean Elections legislation.


In my mind, one equals the other. A Clean Elections Law is just a spiffier term for public financing of campaigns, the same way the Death Tax is a stronger term for the Estate Tax. I can see how that would be confusing to people who aren't familiar with the terminology.

Brian's next comment is the one I need to respond to:

Ah, I understand your meaning then. But wouldn't it be better stating my position if you simply said I did not support public funding of campaigns and limits on campaign spending? I'm all for clean election legislation, however I believe that the Maine act is not the way to go about it.

Regardless of the amount of income a person, group of people, corporation, etc make, the contributions that they donate are, in fact, a part of political speech. They are supporting candidates they feel would best serve their needs. Also the money spent by a candidate is an extension of their political speech. That is, this funding is giving them the ways and means of getting their message out. While PACs and special interests are a problem in this system, and the amount of money often spent is obscene in many regards, I feel it is unnecessary to quell the whole thing by limiting what may be raised and what may be spent. That is a rather iron fisted method of dealing with the problem.

First off, one of the points I am making in my own campaign is that I am running out of my own pocket. This is not the only reason I am running, however I would like to be an example that no matter what party you are running with (if any) and how much money you are able to raise, one can still run for office, and make a legitimate run at that. All you need is a little bit of a shoe string and the willingness to do some hard work.

Secondly, to require my tax dollars, your tax dollars, and everyone elses' tax dollars to go to any and all candidates, regardless of whether such taxpayers actually support the individual or not, is rather tyrannical. I have the option to put money or not put money into the coffers of a candidate, and I would like to keep that option. I don't think legislation requiring public money (that could be going to schools, infrastructure, aide programs, etc) to go to somebody just because they were able to get a few signatures on a piece of paper, or worse yet, impress their friends at the party headquarters enough. To put it bluntly, I don’t think they are entitled to my money without saying a word to me about why I should be voting for them in the first place.

Third, how can we be certain that publicly funded and limited spending campaigns will actually be clean?

Why don't we try this...better visibility of who is donating and how much and to whom. You are doing your part by selecting certain individuals and showing where their money is coming from. Cityview sort of does the same thing, but seems to only focus on those who are currently in trouble in the public eye. I would like to see at ever polling place a list of contributors that each candidate took money from, including city and state location of said contributors. Every candidate would be listed; therefore it would only be more information for the voters to base their decision on and nothing for or against any candidate in particular.

I apologize for the long response. What do you, or anybody else, think of this idea?


I'm going to need to go step-by-step on that. First paragraph:

Ah, I understand your meaning then. But wouldn't it be better stating my position if you simply said I did not support public funding of campaigns and limits on campaign spending? I'm all for clean election legislation, however I believe that the Maine act is not the way to go about it.


Clean Elections Legistation DOES NOT involve any kind of limitations on campaign spending. Under Clean Elections legislation, there would be two types of candidates:

A) Candidates who qualify and choose to run under public financing. Those candidates who choose to run this way would be given X amount of public funding to run their campaign but would not be allowed to raise any more money.
B) Candidates who reject public funding and are free to fundraise and spend as they always have.

If a candidate from group B were to spend more money than a candidate in group A was given by the state, then the state would match that total for the Clean Elections candidate.

Second paragraph:

Regardless of the amount of income a person, group of people, corporation, etc make, the contributions that they donate are, in fact, a part of political speech. They are supporting candidates they feel would best serve their needs. Also the money spent by a candidate is an extension of their political speech. That is, this funding is giving them the ways and means of getting their message out. While PACs and special interests are a problem in this system, and the amount of money often spent is obscene in many regards, I feel it is unnecessary to quell the whole thing by limiting what may be raised and what may be spent. That is a rather iron fisted method of dealing with the problem.


I agree wholeheartedly. And Clean Elections Legislation would do nothing to limit what can be raised or spent by candidates who choose not to use the system.

Third paragraph:

First off, one of the points I am making in my own campaign is that I am running out of my own pocket. This is not the only reason I am running, however I would like to be an example that no matter what party you are running with (if any) and how much money you are able to raise, one can still run for office, and make a legitimate run at that. All you need is a little bit of a shoe string and the willingness to do some hard work.


When the financial playing field is leveled for candidates, the winners will be the candidates with better stances on the issues, better strategy, and perhaps most of all, the candidates with the greatest capacity to work hard and organize.

Fourth paragraph:

Secondly, to require my tax dollars, your tax dollars, and everyone elses' tax dollars to go to any and all candidates, regardless of whether such taxpayers actually support the individual or not, is rather tyrannical. I have the option to put money or not put money into the coffers of a candidate, and I would like to keep that option. I don't think legislation requiring public money (that could be going to schools, infrastructure, aide programs, etc) to go to somebody just because they were able to get a few signatures on a piece of paper, or worse yet, impress their friends at the party headquarters enough. To put it bluntly, I don’t think they are entitled to my money without saying a word to me about why I should be voting for them in the first place.


First of all, candidates would have to prove they qualify for public financing to receive it. At the very least, they'd have to get enough signatures on their nomination petition to qualify for the ballot. Party allegiance has nothing to do with it. I'm not one to advocate for good ol' boys networks.

Second, estimates on the cost of this program range from $3 million annually on the low end to $5 million on the high end. Worst case scenario, the whole program would cost each Iowan less than $2, or approximately 1/10th of the state's annual investment in the Values Fund.

Fifth and sixth paragraphs:

Third, how can we be certain that publicly funded and limited spending campaigns will actually be clean?

Why don't we try this...better visibility of who is donating and how much and to whom. You are doing your part by selecting certain individuals and showing where their money is coming from. Cityview sort of does the same thing, but seems to only focus on those who are currently in trouble in the public eye. I would like to see at ever polling place a list of contributors that each candidate took money from, including city and state location of said contributors. Every candidate would be listed; therefore it would only be more information for the voters to base their decision on and nothing for or against any candidate in particular.


First, we've already established that there's no "limited spending" element here.

Beyond that, I agree wholeheartedly with what you've said. I'm a huge fan of increased transparency in government. But I want to take it a step farther. I don't just want a better window through which I can see the problem. I want to end the problem.

Herein endeth the lesson.

KL

5 comments:

Brian McLain said...

Great exchange and I certainly appreciate it, though I have to question your concept of this being a "lesson". While I did learn a bit more from your arguments, I would consider this more of a debate then a "lesson".

As you could see one of my main beefs with the idea was limitation of spending, as I thought I understood under the Maine Clean Election Act. Seems I did misunderstand and I apologize. Now with that out of the way, as you seemed pretty hooked on this misconception of mine. Now with that out of the way, there are still some other issues with the Clean Election idea that I do still have a problem with:

First off, we still have the taxpayer money going to political candidates if they so choose to file for this candidate financial aid (so to speak). If I opted for this public financing, qualifying by simply acquiring the signatures of 75 citizens, I would still be receiving a rather large amount of money (dependent upon the fundraising of my opponents, in this case Richard Inman and Kevin McCarthy) for that little bit of footwork. Would you require a larger number of signatures than necessary to qualify for a spot on the ballot in order to qualify for public funding?

I can understand the concept of leveling out the playing field, however to receive the funds from taxpayers, no matter how little it might average out to per capita, who already are paying for garbage deals such as the Iowa Values Fund, makes me uneasy. That and those who choose to go the public financing route are still receiving taxpayer money regardless of whether those taxpayers agree with their message or not.

Taking it a step farther is fine in my book, but throwing money at the situation is not the only solution. Greater visibility and education of the public might be better route to take for the time being. After all, if taking money from PACs is as strong an issue with voters as it is with you, surely those candidates who accepted the least amount of money or none at all would come out on top. Would they not?

In essence I don't see the public funding idea as absolutely synonymous with clean campaigns. I also don't see the idea as an end all, solve all on corrupt elections, only satisfying those who whine about not having rich enough friends to donate to their cause.

Anonymous said...

Actually, public financing laws require the collection of more signatures than usual, but also a $5 donation from each person who signs. It is a way to make that signature more than just some signature and put some additional weight behind it- so that it is harder for "kooks" to get public financing.

Brian McLain said...

That would be understandable and reasonable, and that would also answer that particular questions I asked. The current Iowa law, I know, requires at least 1% of the population in the district to sign a petition in order to obtain a spot on the ballot. What do you think would be a reasonable percentage of the district if one was applying for public financing?

The Real Sporer said...

Seriously, how could public funding of the electoral process not ultimately undermine democracy? Incumbants have enough advantages without being able to regulate and legislate what their challengers can say and do.

KL Snow said...

I'm not sure how Clean Elections legislation would limit what candidates can say or do.

However, it would make it easier for challengers to raise money to run against incumbents.

KL