The Center for Competitive Politics released a report today analyzing the Fair Elections Now Act (FENA), a bill that would implement taxpayer funded congressional campaigns.
“Supporters of government-subsidized campaigns claim their scheme would usher in bold ‘reform’ but can’t point to actual successes beyond platitudes,” said CCP Chairman Bradley A. Smith, who will testify Thursday at a House Administration Committee hearing on the proposal. “Congress should examine the record of these failed programs — not flowery rhetoric promising reduced corruption, decreased influence of organized interests and more competitive campaigns.”
“Fairly Flawed,” the Center for Competitive Politics’ policy briefing on FENA, examines the proposed legislation in detail, with particular emphasis on the experience of states that have adopted similar legislation.
“Incumbent politicians are seeking a bailout from taxpayers to subsidize their campaigns under the guise of reducing corruption,” said CCP President Sean Parnell. “This legislation is built on the flawed idea that states with taxpayer funded campaigns have achieved demonstrably positive results. The reality in states like Arizona and Connecticut doesn’t support that fantasy.”
Connecticut Democratic state Sen. Joseph Crisco “broke almost every conceivable part of public campaign finance law” in order to secure $85,000 through the state’s “clean elections” program, the New Haven Register reported recently. Rather than risk the program’s funding by forwarding the matter to prosecutors and angering a top appropriator, Connecticut’s State Elections Enforcement Commission fined Crisco just $4,000.
In May, former Arizona Republican state Sen. Doug Quelland was fined and removed from office for violating the “clean elections” law he championed. Quelland’s race also featured an alleged dirty trick whereby a former Republican ran as a Green Party candidate to secure nearly $70,000 in government money to attack the Democrat.
Transferring the funding of campaigns to government instead of private citizens will not magically end corruption — it will simply encourage some corrupt politicians to defraud taxpayers. In states with “clean elections,” candidates often rely on organized interest groups for a significant portion of their funding to leverage government matching funds.
With this system in place, challengers outside the party establishment would face greater difficulty ousting unpopular or corrupt incumbents. Even if challengers could gain government-leveled financial parity, unlikely under FENA, they must contend with incumbents’ easy access to free media, franking privileges and established donor connections.
FENA, H.R. 1826, was introduced by Reps. John Larson (D-Conn.) and Walter Jones (R-N.C.) March 31. A similar bill in the Senate, S. 752, was introduced by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Arlen Specter (D-Pa.).
The Center for Competitive Politics is a non-profit organization which seeks to protect the First Amendment political rights of speech, assembly, and petition.