Subsidizing Democracy

Subsidizing Democracy: How Public Funding Changes Elections and How It Can Work in the Future

Michael G. Miller
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 216
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7591/j.ctt32b630
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  • Book Info
    Subsidizing Democracy
    Book Description:

    In the wake ofCitizens United v. Federal Election Commission(2010), the case that allowed corporate and union spending in elections, many Americans despaired over the corrosive influence that private and often anonymous money can have on political platforms, campaigns, and outcomes at the federal and state level. InMcComish v. Bennett(2011), the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the matching funds feature of so-called "Clean Elections" public financing laws, but there has been no strong challenge to the constitutionality of public funding as such. InSubsidizing Democracy, Michael G. Miller considers the impact of state-level public election financing on political campaigns through the eyes of candidates. Miller's insights are drawn from survey data obtained from more than 1,000 candidates, elite interview testimony, and twenty years of election data. This book is therefore not only an effort to judge the effects of existing public election funding but also a study of elite behavior, campaign effects, and the structural factors that influence campaigns and voters.

    The presence of publicly funded candidates in elections, Miller reports, results in broad changes to the electoral system, including more interaction between candidates and the voting public and significantly higher voter participation. He presents evidence that by providing neophytes with resources that would have been unobtainable otherwise, subsidies effectively manufacture quality challengers. Miller describes how matching-funds provisions of Clean Elections laws were pervasively manipulated by candidates and parties and were ultimately struck down by the Supreme Court. A revealing book that will change the way we think about campaign funding,Subsidizing Democracyconcludes with an evaluation of existing proposals for future election policy in light of Miller's findings.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6952-7
    Subjects: Political Science, History, Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    On June 30, 2011, comedian Stephen Colbert launched a satirical assault on the campaign finance environment in the United States. Standing on the front steps of the Federal Election Commission building, Colbert announced that he had received approval to use his television show on Comedy Central as a vehicle to “raise unlimited monies” for his Colbert Super PAC and to “use the monies to determine the winners of the 2012 elections.”¹ Of course, Colbert’s true intent was to mock the campaign finance regulations resulting from a series of federal court decisions, but his effort displayed marked financial success: Colbert Super...

  5. 1 Why Public Funding?
    (pp. 12-28)

    In American politics, money matters. As the role of political money has changed over time, campaign finance reforms have tried to keep pace. Regulations have been constructed to restore fairness, opportunity, and integrity to American elections. Fair elections are essential to any democratic system, but so is the absence of unreasonable restrictions on political speech. Even before the advent of mass media, money expanded the ability of political parties and individual candidates to communicate with voters. That said, elections in America today are expensive, and the high price of running is often a barrier to entry for prospective candidates. Policies...

  6. 2 Strategic Candidates and Public Funding
    (pp. 29-45)

    In our search for the effects of public funding, the first step is to recognize that participation is likely to change the strategic considerations that candidates make since it dramatically affects the costs—in several areas—that they must pay to wage a viable campaign. The recognition of this dynamic is important because an altered cost-benefit calculus will almost certainly affect what candidates think and do during the course of an election. Indeed, if public funding leads to broader shifts in electoral competition or interest group influence, these changes are likely to be the result of altered strategy and candidate...

  7. 3 Campaign Time
    (pp. 46-63)

    Public funding holds great potential to affect the financial fortunes of participating candidates, but it is equally likely to change how they use their time. Whether the act of fundraising is “bad” in a normative sense is debatable, but it stands to reason that since public funding frees them from fundraising obligations, participating candidates are likely to pursue a different set of activities on a week-to-week basis than they would otherwise. Indeed, the framers of Arizona’s law recognized that running with traditional contributions “requires that elected officials spend too much of their time raising funds rather than representing the public”...

  8. 4 Voting Behavior
    (pp. 64-79)

    Particularly during presidential election years, state legislative candidates face a challenge in capturing the attention of voters, who are more likely to focus on high-profile races. But given that full public funding heightens interaction between the public and candidates, it seems reasonable to expect that the subsidizing of campaigns will also have implications for mass voting behavior. If voters are more likely to receive a high-quality contact from a state legislative campaign, they should gain crucial knowledge about that election. Whether by disseminating information about a candidate’s policy positions or biography, or by raising the perceived salience of the job...

  9. 5 Candidate Quality
    (pp. 80-107)

    When it comes to assessing public funding’s efficacy as policy, no outcome has received more attention from political scientists than its potential to enhance electoral competition. This focus is understandable, given the relatively uncompetitive nature of American politics. It is a well-documented truth that when incumbents seek reelection to Congress (Jacobson 2009) or state legislatures (Carsey et al. 2008), they can reasonably expect to win more than 90 percent of the time. Moreover, as Carsey et al. (2008) demonstrate, only about one-third of state legislative elections are won with less than 60 percent of the vote, and congressional elections are...

  10. 6 Ideology and Partisan Participation
    (pp. 108-123)

    Although subsidies impart a clear benefit to the fundraising-challenged, other candidates might view a publicly funded campaign as having a higher net cost than a traditionally financed one. For instance, those who can easily self-fund may find the qualification costs to be relatively onerous. More likely, however, those candidates who perceive participation to be costly will do so because of a personal, ideologically based objection to the program. Given the rather overt expenditure of direct subsidies, it should not be terribly controversial to assume that candidates who think of themselves as “fiscally conservative”—and are therefore likely to possess an...

  11. 7 Clean Elections at the Supreme Court
    (pp. 124-141)

    On March 28, 2011, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments inMcComish v. Bennett,a First Amendment challenge to the matching funds provisions of Arizona’s Clean Elections law. The case was consolidated withArizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett(since they were argued together, I refer to both cases with theMcComishcitation). In the weeks leading up the argument, supporters of public funding maintained that it was making elections fairer and more democratic, and that matching funds were an integral component of the program’s success. Meanwhile, its opponents claimed that the incentives that matching...

  12. Conclusion: Reform in the Future
    (pp. 142-154)

    The Supreme Court’s decisions have narrowed the available policy options when it comes to campaign finance, but it is important to note that the Court has consistently upheld the constitutionality of optional public funding programs established inBuckley,despite ample opportunity to strike them down. The Court has held that it is the government’s prerogative to allow candidates to opt into public funding programs because such subsidies help to reduce public perception of corruption. In no case sinceBuckleyhas the Court questioned whether this is a justifiable goal. Indeed, since Arizona and Maine implemented their Clean Elections programs in...

  13. Appendix 1. Description of Data Sources
    (pp. 155-158)
  14. Appendix 2. Survey Instrument
    (pp. 159-162)
  15. Appendix 3. Methods
    (pp. 163-180)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 181-184)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 185-194)
  18. Index
    (pp. 195-202)