Voters First, Truth Later: Reform Groups Mislead Public

September 28, 2006   •  By Brad Smith   •  
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PRESS RELEASE:     September 28, 2006

Media Contact:      Bradley A. Smith (614-236-6317)


“VotersFirst, Truth Later: Reform Groups Mislead Public”

A trio of campaign finance reform lobbying groups, operating under the umbrella “Voters First,” are hoping to give the impression of a public groundswell for public financing of political campaigns.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  “The numbers simply don’t show anything like mass public or bipartisan support for public financing of campaigns,” said Bradley Smith, former Chairman of the Federal Election Commission and Chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics.

In a press release, the groups argue that “In recent polling, 74 percent of likely voters nationwide support public funding for campaigns.” Smith noted that the groups appear not to have released the actual poll question – it’s not on the Voters First website, in the group’s press release, or in a June 21, 2006 Memorandum from pollsters Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners and Christine Matthews of Bellwether Resarch discussing the poll that appears on the Public Campaign website. However, a survey of 2000 likely voters conducted by Rasmussen Reports in February of 2006 for the Center for Competitive Politics found that only 28 percent favored tax financing of campaigns.  The CCP survey asked respondents, “Should the federal government provide public funding for all political campaigns?”

Smith also pointed to a number of misleading graphics and statements in the groups’ website.  For example, as of 10:00 a.m. on September 28, the web site lists only 20 candidates under the category “not signed,”  In fact, 897 candidates, or 77 percent of the total, had not signed the pledge.  The reform groups, however, chose not to list candidates as “not signed” when those candidates had not returned the pledge at all.

Overall, participation has been sparse.  Of the 304 signers, 73 were minor party or independent candidates, mainly members of the left-wing Green party.  Only 37 Republicans signed the pledge, and only two were incumbents.  Most of the Republican challengers who signed the pledge are token candidates with little or no chance of winning, such as Alan Schlesinger, the GOP Senate candidate in Connecticut, who is polling in single digits; Raymond Chukwu, the token opposition to California’s Mike Honda who won his last race with 72% of the vote; and Robert Belin, challenger to Jesse Jackson, Jr. in Illinois’ second congressional district.  Altogether, only 8 percent of Republicans, 19 percent of independents and minor party candidates, and 40 percent of Democrats had signed the pledge,constituting just 23 percent of all candidates.  Only a fraction of those who have signed have come from outside the Green Party and the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, suggesting that this issue’s appeal is limited.

“The idea that there is ‘overwhelming support’ for public financing that ‘crosses party lines and demographics,’ as the reform lobbyists claim, either in the public or among candidates for congress,  is more wishful thinking than reality,” said Smith.

The Center for Competitive Politics is a non-profit organization founded in 2005 by former FEC Chairman Bradley A. Smith, professor of law at Capital University Law School and of counsel to Vorys, Sater, Seymour, and Pease, and Stephen M. Hoersting, campaign finance attorney and former general counsel to the National Republican Senatorial Committee.  CCP’s mission, through legal briefs, studies, historical and constitutional analyses, and media communication, is to educate the public on the actual effects of money in politics, and the results of a more free and competitive electoral process.

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Brad Smith

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