More fantasy than fact in Fair Elections Now Act

April 27, 2009   •  By Sean Parnell
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Congress is currently considering proposals to enact taxpayer-financed political campaigns for members of the House and Senate, the so-called Fair Elections Now Act. Although they’ve apparently chosen a new friendly name (who could be opposed to “fair elections,” after all), the Fair Elections Now Act is the same failed “clean elections” scams with different bells and whistles.

We’ve done a fair amount of research and commentary on the failures of the so-called clean elections schemes in Arizona, Maine, and New York City that the Fair Elections Now Act is based on. Just recently I wrote about New York City’s Campaign Finance Program, which offers matching funds to candidates in a manner similar to what is proposed in the Fair Elections Now Act. Needless to say, this has turned out to be a huge benefit to incumbents and the politically connected.

Over the weekend, the Kennebec Journal in Maine ran an article proudly noting that Maine’s own “clean elections” program is a model for the Fair Elections Now Act. As usual, supporters of the program touted its success in terms of the number of candidates participating.

But what caught my eye were the comments of Malory O. Shaughnessy, executive director of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, who said the program “…has really improved the caliber and the diversity of who we have in Augusta.”

Really? It just so happens that this is something that we at the Center for Competitive Politics have studied. The findings? The number of women serving in the Maine Legislature has declined under their “clean elections” program, and the occupational diversity of Maine legislators has not noticeably changed either.

Maine is a state without much in the way of minority populations, so it’s hard to imagine that racial diversity has been increased in the legislature much either. As this article from 2006 shows, Maine has (or at the time had) no African-American or Latino legislators.

As for an improvement in the “caliber,” that seems a pretty subjective standard – in who’s eyes has the “caliber” of legislators improved? Is the average IQ higher now? Are there more legislators with advanced degrees than before? Have they passed legislation that noticeably improves the lives of Maine citizens at a greater pace than before “clean elections” came into effect?

It is almost becoming comical the way supporters of schemes like the Fair Elections Now Act simply throw out any platitude or slogan they can think of in favor of diverting billions of taxpayer dollars into the campaign coffers of politicians, without bothering to determine if there is even the slightest bit of truth to them.

Fortunately, at least one Maine Senator seems to understand that this latest push by so-called campaign finance “reform” groups is more about sound bites than reality. Senator Susan Collins has smartly rejected the demands of “reformers” to allow politicians to raid the public treasury to fund campaign commercials and consultants. Thank you, Senator, for recognizing this for the scam that it is!

Sean Parnell

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