Trying to use taxpayer money to buy “egalitarian policies”

Last Friday, Newsday ran an op-ed titled "For egalitarian policies, publicly fund campaigns."  The title basically says it all. 

The piece painfully tries to argue that Americans "feel their interests are neglected by the current ‘rigged’ funding system."  If only elections were financed by the government, the author argues, then "egalitarian politics could make a comeback."

Supporters of such a premise flatly reject the principle that we are a nation of diverse ideas and ideology, preferring instead to argue that elected officials are "bought off" by so-called "special interests" that represent values and ideals fundamentally contrary to those of the average American.

Such a mentality is naïve at best, and at worst purposely misleading. America, thankfully, is not a homogenous society comprised of citizen clones who share identical ideologies and interest.

Many Americans believe in a proactive government that is quick to regulate, redistribute wealth, and promote social justice. Others believe that government should be smaller and less intrusive. And most Americans support a broad mixture of these ideals. 

Even among citizens that broadly agree on basic questions concerning the proper role of government, there is disagreement. One only needs to observe a single presidential debate to see this first hand.

The Democratic presidential candidates offer an array of options to reform our health care system.  Some support mandating health insurance, similar to requirements for car insurance, as the best solution. Other candidates advocate for a complete government takeover of the system. 

Similarly, Republican candidates debate over how to best reform taxes. Some advocate a national sales tax while others advocate for a simplified tax code and flatter rates.

But one thing should be clear. Americans hold a broad variety of beliefs and opinions on what government should do and how it should do it. 

Taxpayer-financed elections try to mold our country from a nation of diverse opinions to one that only reflects the views of chosen elites.   Fortunately, our current campaign finance system embraces our ideological diversity by allowing citizens to directly participate in supporting candidates that reflect their values and ideals.

Importantly, both political scientists and the majority of presidential candidates have rejected the claim made in the Newsday op-ed that "special interests" skew our legislative outcomes.

Senator Hillary Clinton and Governor Bill Richardson have both asserted that groups of citizens like nurses, social workers, environmentalists, and senior citizens deserve to have the voices heard.  Taxpayer-financed elections would try to silence these voices.

Senator Clinton has also noted that "the idea that a contribution is going to influence my record" is not rooted in reality.  And Governor Richardson said that rhetoric hyping the perceived undue influence of "special interests" are nothing more than slogans to get people cheering. 

Research by professors John Lott and Stephen Bronars backs-up what officeholders already know. Campaign contributions are driven by ideology and do not buy legislative votes.  And legislators vote according to their own beliefs, their party loyalty, and the views of their constituents.

The real reason that more "egalitarian policies" are not enacted is not because of a broken system but because they have failed to gain the support of the majority of Americans.  But instead of working to convince more Americans of the merits of "egalitarian policies" some supporters of taxpayer-financed elections advocate putting government in charge of elections as the easiest way to achieve their policy goals.

Thus is exposed the ultimate danger of taxpayer-financed elections, which are designed to both overtly and subtly suppress citizen speech.  Simply put, the government shouldn’t be deciding how much gets said about it and by whom. 

Our nation’s founders wisely wrote the First Amendment to prevent government from enacting laws that abridge the freedom of speech.  A robust democracy depends on the ability of the citizens to join together in support of or opposition to both candidates and policy ideas. 

Our country could only benefit from more political speech and more political debate.  But it will only work if that speech is driven by the citizens – not by government bureaucrats. 

Real change will not come by giving government more control over political speech.  Instead, one should be advocating for the government to ease its control and regulation of political speech.

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.