Friday, April 29, 2011

Public Campaign Finance Expenditures

On federal and sixteen state income tax returns individuals have an opportunity to “checkoff” if they wish to designate $1 - $10 (depending on the state) to public campaign funds. These funds, which do not increase or decrease the taxpayer’s tax liability or refund have been the backbone of public campaign finance since Congress passed the Federal Election Campaign Act in 1971. Unfortunately, instead of these funds proving to expand the candidate base, limit the influence of special interest donations, or provide reasonable monetary parameters for competitive campaigns, they have been used as an unfortunate “plan B” for candidates with limited fundraising options.

The factors hampering the effectiveness of these funds are not obvious. It’s not that the fund lacks money.[1] It’s not that candidates can only get the funds piecemeal.[2] And it’s not that the funding allowed per candidate is small.[3] Rather, it is that campaign finance in this country has gotten so out of control that no public financing system could possibly compete if the most competitive offices (President and Governor) continue in their present trajectory.[4]

So what needs to be done? (Ranging from the most radical to the most simple.)

-Abolish the Federal Election Commission [5]

Pass the “Clean Money, Clean Elections Act” [6]

Allow for the amount in the checkoff to vary with the consumer price index

Simplify compliance requirements [7]

Educate Americans about the checkoff programs to increase participation rates

States that have checkoff programs:


[2] Primary election fund are given out periodically based on a candidates ability to raise matching funds. General election funds are distributed in one lump sum.

[3] For 2008 primary election candidates could receive more than $42 million, for the general election party candidates could receive more than $82 million not including legal fees or fees spent to comply with federal election law (which could be equal to or less than 15% of the “base grant” or $15,000,000).

[4] In the 2008 Presidential election candidates Obama and McCain spent more than $1.1 billion. The 2010 Minnesota governor’s race came with a price tag of $25 million.

[5] The FEC has been a barren wasteland of political wrangling, inefficiency, and deadlock since its inception. Currently the FEC can handle little to no actual disputes because it cannot form a quorum. This country has long needed a replacement to accurately and transparently enforce election laws.



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