Should the U.S. Government Help Fund Election Campaigns?
Elections are the bread and butter of our Constitutional Democratic Republic. In practice, elections are very expensive, especially in the modern world where candidates, who wish to compete, must raise a significant amount of money. In turn, many potential donors see an opportunity to support the candidates who will be in favor of their views; therefore, elections can also undermine democracy by adding a price tag to representation. This means government must do something to level the playing field and augment the legitimacy of elections.
Public funding of campaigns is one element in minimizing stacked elections and improving the accessibility for less financially supported candidates. Of course, candidates running in everything from township supervisor to Presidential elections cannot have their campaigns fully funded by public moneys as no country has unlimited resources. In all, a balance between fund raising and publicly funding where the cost burden is shared by all taxpayers and political supporters would be beneficial as well as prudent.
Furthermore, publicly funded elections would certainly not prevent stacked elections. During the 2008 Presidential election, GOP nominee John McCain opted to take public funding as promised, yet now President Obama declined public support in favor of fundraising despite a similar pledge. Aside from disliking asking people for money, Senator McCain could not have raised as much money as Obama while the Republican Party had enough funding to outpace Democratic spending if the President took Public Funds. Meanwhile other noncandidate campaign ads, like 527 Ads, negate the benefit of public funding.
Simply limiting the ads noncandidate groups can use would violate those people's First Amendment Right in the case of US citizens. In 2002, the -McCain Feingold Act tried to level the playing field by requiring campaigners to disclose donators and limited donations to $2400 per person among other provisions. Although this does help unveil those who try to influence politics as well as force candidates to rely more heavily on broad bases of support, the legal and accounting requirements discourage less known, less financially supported candidates in local elections from running.
Moreover, all levels of the US government should help fund political campaigns, but taxpayers certainly cannot bear the full burden. Meanwhile, the actions of individuals and groups beyond the campaigns of candidates limit the effectiveness public funding. As the First Amendment must be respected to ensure elections are democratic, there is only so much legislators can do to legitimize elections and minimize the influence of wealthy donors. Certainly, efforts should continue to mitigate undermining influences and reform how we do that, but the best defense is to provide voters with credible facts as well as quality candidates.