Clicking on banner ads keeps JWR alive
Jewish World Review Feb. 7, 2002 / 25 Shevat, 5762

John H. Fund

JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

Arizona Highway Robbery: Politicians make a grab for campaign cash -- PHOENIX | Would you like it if every time you paid a parking ticket, 10% of the fine went directly to the political campaign of someone you planned to vote against? That's happening in Arizona. And whether the law to fund election campaigns is allowed to stand may determine if other states try a similar way of paying politicians not just to hold office, but to also run for it.

Thomas Jefferson attacked the idea of forcing Americans to contribute to political causes they disagreed with. He called it "sinful and tyrannical." Most Americans still believe it violates any basic sense of fairness. That's why the advocates of the public financing initiative Arizona voters narrowly approved in 1998 went to great lengths to say their subsidies to politicians would be paid for out of voluntary donations to a state fund that would in turn dole out the money to qualified candidates, who collect only very small private donations.

In reality, 70% of the cash doled out to candidates comes from two unpopular groups--people who pay court fines and lobbyists.

Two other states, Maine and Massachusetts, also let candidates campaign with public money. But at least the money involved was meant to come from either general revenues or voluntary donations to a public financing fund, like the one for which Uncle Sam asks on your income tax form if you want to divert a few dollars to a presidential campaign fund. Despite clear statements that doing so won't raise the filer's taxes, less than 20% of those filling out federal income tax forms mark the box.

Arizona taxpayers showed a similar disdain for handing their tax dollars over for political campaigns. State taxpayers can check off a box on their income tax returns and divert $5 to the public financing fund or take a dollar-for-dollar tax credit of up to $500 from their tax liability if they donate to the fund. But those two sources bring in only 28% of the fund's revenue.

The bulk of the fund's revenue comes from two special taxes. Lobbyists for companies and trade associations have to pay a $100 annual fee to the state's Clean Elections Fund. Curiously, lobbyists for nonprofit entities such as labor unions, local governments and teachers unions are exempt. In addition, anyone who pays a civil or criminal penalty in Arizona pays a 10% surcharge that goes to the fund.

Lobbyists and scofflaws aren't exactly sympathetic characters, but they do have First Amendment rights. "Politicians have a protected right to free speech, but they don't have a constitutional right to single out discrete groups of people and make them pay for it," says Clint Bolick of the Institute for Justice, who is challenging the law as unconstitutional. Arizona's Supreme Court will decide on March 19 whether or not to hear the case.

Free-speech advocates aren't the only ones casting a jaundiced eye on Arizona's law. A new study of the 2000 election by the local Goldwater Institute found that in the first year it was used, the Clean Elections Act failed to deliver on its promises. While Arizona elections were slightly more competitive in 2000, that almost certainly had far more to do with term limits creating open seats than with public financing. Legislators elected with public financing are supposed to be liberated from big money interests, but for the most part, the Goldwater Institute found, they voted no differently than those elected with private contributions.

Campaigns weren't discernibly cleaner. One candidate used nearly all of his $45,000 in public funds to launch a series of attack ads, including one in which the candidate himself sang. Two candidates pleaded guilty to forging many of the 200 signatures they had to submit to get public money.

Despite their ostensible goal of "cleaning up" elections, laws like Arizona's are really designed to make political campaigns a wholly owned subsidiary of the state--and thereby influence their outcome. People have the right to put their money where their mouth is, and they also have the right not to put up any money at all.

Comment on JWR contributor John H. Fund's column by clicking here.


01/31/02: Disfranchise Lassie: Even dogs can register to vote. We need election reform with teeth
01/17/02: Dr. King's Greedy Relations: Cashing in on a national hero's legacy
01/10/02: Oil of Vitriol
01/04/02: The little engine that couldn't--and the senators who don't want it to
12/24/01: E-mail and low-cost computers could be conduits for a learning revolution
12/13/01: How Gore could have really won
12/07/01: Let our students keep their cell phones
12/04/01: Why the White House gave the RNC chairman the boot
11/12/01: A Winsome Politician: She won an election in a majority-black district--and she's a Republican
11/01/01: Bush Avoids Politics at His Peril
10/30/01: Cocked Pit: Armed pilots would mean polite skies
10/24/01: Chicken Pox: Hardly anyone has anthrax, but almost everyone has anthrax anxiety
10/11/01: Will Rush Hear Again? New technology may make it possible
10/04/01: Three Kinds of pols
08/24/01: Lauch Out: Who'll replace Jesse Helms?
08/08/01: Tome Alone: Clinton's book will probably end up on the remainder table
08/03/01: Of grubbing and grabbing: Corporation$ and local government$ perfect "public use"
07/31/01: Affairs of State: The Condit case isn't just about adultery. It's about public trust and national security
07/14/01: The First Amendment survives, and everyone has someone to blame for the failure of campaign reform
07/12/01: He's Still Bread: Despite what you've heard, Gary Condit isn't toast --- yet
07/12/01: Passing Lane: Left-wing attacks help boost John Stossel's and Brit Hume's audiences
06/25/01: Man vs. Machine: New Jersey's GOP establishment is doing everything it can to stop Bret Schundler
06/15/01: A Schundler Surprise? Don't count out "the Jack Kemp of New Jersey"
06/06/01: Memo to conservatives: Ignore McCain and maybe he'll go away
05/29/01: Integrity in Politics? Hardly. Jim Jeffords is no Wayne Morse
05/22/01: Davis' answer to California's energy crisis? Hire a couple of Clinton-Gore hatchet men
05/07/01: Prematurely declaring a winner wasn't the networks' worst sin in Florida
04/23/01: How to fix the electoral process --- REALLY!
04/11/01: A conservative hero may mount a California comeback
03/30/01: Can the GOP capture the nation's most closely balanced district?
03/09/01: Terminated
03/06/01: Leave well enough alone
02/22/01: Forgetting our heroes
02/15/01: In 1978 Clinton got a close look at the dangers of selling forgiveness
02/12/01: Clinton owes the country an explanation --- and an appology
02/06/01: How Ronald Reagan changed America
01/16/01: Why block Ashcroft? To demoralize the GOP's most loyal voters
01/15/01: Remembering John Schmitz, a cheerful extremist
12/29/00: Why are all Dems libs pickin' on me?
Dubya's 48% mandate is different than Ford's
12/13/00: Gore would have lost any recount that passed constitutional muster
11/13/00: The People Have Spoken: Will Gore listen?
10/25/00: She's really a Dodger
09/28/00: Locking up domestic oil?
09/25/00: Hillary gives new meaning to a "woman with a past"
09/21/00: Ignore the Polls. The Campaign Isn't Over Yet

©2001, John H. Fund