Pay your taxes — finance the incumbent you hate

Imagine you’re unhappy with the performance in office of some incumbent politician. You throw your hat in the ring and proceed to spend months raising the hundreds of thousands of dollars necessary to wage a viable electoral challenge. Or, maybe you’ve spent decades of hard work amassing the private, after-tax savings necessary to fund such an effort on your own.

In response, your state government takes hundreds of thousands of dollars extracted from taxpayers against their will — including, ironically enough, taxes you yourself have paid — and hands that money to the politician you’re attempting to defeat, explaining it’s “not fair” that you’re raising and spending more money than your poor, pathetic opponent, who only starts out with all the name recognition and other advantages of elected office.

It sounds like far-out fiction, but it’s actually been happening in the state of Arizona, home of “campaign reform” champion Sen. John McCain-Feingold. Arizona election “reformers” wanted to limit the amount of money spent on campaigns, see — handing an automatic advantage to well-known incumbents. To pull this off, they’ve been bribing those who agree to limit their expenditures by handing them tax money for their campaigns.

But the politicians won’t play by those rules if a challenger refuses the government handouts, instead going out and raising a larger campaign chest, privately. The solution? If a challenger who’s not accepting public funds raises “too much” money, Arizona “makes up the difference” by handing more taxpayer funds to the incumbent!

Fortunately, in another step back toward free speech and common sense, the Supreme Court on June 8 stopped Arizona from distributing campaign subsidies to publicly funded candidates facing big-spending opponents.

The court granted a stay request from opponents of the decade-old law that subsidizes state candidates who agree to spend only public money — other people’s tax payments — on their campaigns. (Do we need to point out that most third party candidates, already struggling to get their views heard, “don’t qualify” for all this government largess?)

The high court will now decide whether to review the lower court decisions.

“The subsidies are an attempt to blunt the influence of campaign contributors,” The Washington Post explains. “In order to keep the publicly financed candidates from being roundly outspent, new subsidies are doled out according to the fund-raising and spending of their privately financed opponents. But those candidates, some of whom are self-financed, say the law forces them to limit their spending to avoid triggering more public money for their opponents.”

A federal judge in Arizona, quite sensibly, said that made the law unconstitutional. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit — the nation’s most collectivist — disagreed, setting up the issue for the high court. Opponents of the law asked the high court to stop the next round of public payments, which were scheduled for June 22, while deciding whether to hear the case.

A brief submitted by an intervener in the case, Clean Elections Institute, said disallowing the subsidies would “likely distort the outcome of the 2010 elections in Arizona.”

As an example, it pointed to the governor’s race. Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, a publicly funded candidate, is eligible to receive more than $2.1 million under the current plan. “If matching funds were enjoined, that amount will drop by 66 percent to $707,447.” Her privately financed GOP opponent Buz Mills, the brief said, already has spent nearly $2.3 million.

In fact, it’s the dole-out-the-taxpayer-funds scheme that “distorts” the outcome of Arizona elections. While voters are of course free to vote for a low-spending candidate, and spending the most millions doesn’t always guarantee election (thank goodness), campaign contributions are one way law-abiding Americans can help promote the governing philosophy they favor. When did it become government’s business to try and reverse such private judgments — using the taxpayers’ own money to back candidates they may abhor?

This is not about the merits of Gov. Brewer or her opponent — Arizona voters will decide that question. But the high court, which has been properly suspicious of many of these “campaign finance reform” schemes of late, should indeed review the Arizona law, and — I hope — throw it out.

Incumbents have plenty of electoral advantages already, without letting them dip into public funds to finance their efforts to hang onto power … and without punishing challengers who raise “too much money” by allowing government officials to reach in and put their thumbs on the scale.

2 Comments to “Pay your taxes — finance the incumbent you hate”

  1. John Taylor Says:

    The problem I see with modern-day campaign financing is with our old friend, the law of unintended consequences. When public money is spent, my taxes go to candidates whom I would not feed to my pigs. When private money is spent, the deepest pockets exert the most influence, and little old John Taxpayer can contribute all I like, to no avail.

    When government mandates the “sources and methods” of campaign finance, you get government by the government. But if the “free market” mandates those sources and methods, you get government by the unholy trio of big business, big media, and big union.

  2. Vin Says:

    The problem begins with the corrupt politicians, who actually create bills designed to threaten specific companies or industries, known colloquially around the Hill as “milker” bills.

    “Campaign contributions” are then extorted from the victim firms, in exchange for killing or modifying the hostile tax or regulatory proposal … this time.

    See Thomas DiLorenzo at http://www.independent.org/publications/article.asp?id=184.

    Did “greedy capitalist” Microsoft set out bribing politicians in order to win regulatory favors designed to help them gain greater profits and market share? Just the opposite. Microsoft was famous for years as a firm that didn’t play the “campaign contribution” game, at all. They just sold (usually) better stuff for less, in a traditionally non-regulated industry. So the government shows up, threatening them with an antitrust prosecution for “bundling” their products. (Buy one program, get a lot of other stuff free — oh, the horror!) The threatened punishments actually included the breakup of the firm! Microsoft learned quickly and started paying off the politicians handsomely. Yet we blame the extorted firm for paying protection money to stay alive?

    The problem would end overnight if lobbyists started arriving at congressional offices tomorrow, saying, “My clients can bundle a neat $50,000 for your re-election campaign, all perfectly legal, if you can see your way fit to submit this legislation for us. It creates ‘green jobs’ subsidies for a limited number of firms defined in such a way to include us and exclude our main competitor” . . . only to be told, “What an interesting proposal. Unfortunately, I can’t find any Constitutional authorization for anything you propose. Would it fall under ‘financing a Navy,” or ‘establishing post offices and post roads’? Sorry I can’t help you. It would be immediately obvious that I’d been bribed to submit such a bizarre proposal. Government SUBSIDIZING a private industry?”

    What congressman today — only Ron Paul comes to mind — would agree with Davy Crockett about the lack of authority to allocate funds for any purpose not specifically delegated? Where the heck is the Constitutional authority even for the Department of Agriculture, let alone Labor, Energy, or Education? “Regulating interstate commerce” meant making sure Missouri didn’t charge a tariff on goods crossing the Mississippi, not drug wars and eternal protection for hereditary tobacco guilds.

    A nation where strict constitutionalists/libertarians are laughed at as “absurd and unrealistic,” never receiving more than 4 percent of the vote, is a nation that deserves what it’s about to get.

    Build an ark.

    — V.S.

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