Public vs. grassroots campaign financing (part 2)

by Sebastian Benthall

If grassroots funding does not really solve the problem of campaign finance, then what other option is there?

Public campaign financing–where the state provides money for candidates to run–is the more traditional solution. If the state provides funding to qualified candidates irrespective of their political positions, then that means that only voter preferences will determine who will win office.

That’s how it works in theory, at least. In practice, there are several problems with the current public campaign financing systems, and especially our current presidential system.

One of those problems is qualification. Obviously, you can’t just give public campaign funding to everybody. But if the conditions of qualification reiterate the conditions for financing a private campaign, then public funding doesn’t help anybody. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happens with the current presidential funding laws:

At the federal level, public funding is limited to subsidies for presidential candidates. To receive subsidies in the primary, candidates must qualify by privately raising $5000 each in at least 20 states. For qualified candidates, the government provides a dollar for dollar “match” from the government for each contribution to the campaign, up to a limit of $250 per contribution. In return, the candidate agrees to limit his or her spending according to a statutory formula.

This is lame. Contrast it with the Clean Elections financing system used in Maine, Arizona, and elsewhere. In this system, candidates qualify by getting some number of seed donations (commonly limited to $5) that demonstrate popular support. In systems like these, qualification correlates to voters, not dollars.