Testimony Helps Defeat Public Financing

This past Thursday, I had the chance to testify against a HB-1156 that would have provided for limited public financing of state legislative campaigns.  The bill was being carried by Rep. Court, and would have created a 2-for-1 matching system, up to $5,000 in matching funds for a State House of Representatives campaign, and up to $10,000 for a State Senate campaign.  While it’s true that I oppose public funding of campaigns on philosophical grounds, my testimony focused primarily on practical concerns: the bill would have failed even on its own terms.  I’m pleased to say that the committee voted it down 7-4, eventually voted to postpone indefinitely, 8-3.

The full audio of my remarks, and those of Rep. Court, will be available soon, but for the moment, here are the basic points that I made.

  • In a time of fiscal constraints, it makes no sense to be providing welfare for politicians while we’re cutting K-12 education
  • While a taxpayer checkoff would be available, it would likely produce little actual revenue, much like the federal campaign checkoff
  • Funding is not truly voluntary, as the campaign account could be funded by general fund dollars
  • The fund balance is not good measure of voter interest in the idea, since gifts and contributions could also fund the account.  Funding all expenses for a campaign cycle would could somewhat more than $1 million, well within the means of a number of Coloradoans who routinely contribute more than that in independent expenditures
  • There are conflicting provisions for distributing funds if there isn’t enough money to go around.   These provisions produce an advantage for incumbents and those with existing political machines, and do nothing to promote competitiveness
  • Campaigns are expensive because printing, mailing, and airtime are expensive, and since campaigns make up only a small part of the whole media market, they have almost no pricing power
  • If a $400 limit is too low, a better route would be to seek relief under the Supreme Court’s Randall v. Sorrell ruling.  It invalidated Vermont’s $200/person contribution limits, for districts that average 1/17th the size of Colorado’s
  • There is little actual public concern; California turned down a public financing initiative by a 3-1 vote, while Alaska’s voters rejected it 2-1.
  • In fact, according to the Justice Department, the cleanest states, like Nebraska, have few or no limits.  And the best-run states, according to Governing magazine, Utah and Virginia, similarly have no limits
  • Arizona’s public financing has failed to increase the diversity of its legislature, as measured by race, sex, or occupation

The proper response should be for the legislature to raise the campaign finance limits and require greater transparency and immediate reporting of who’s paying.  This will encourage money to flow to campaigns, rather than to unaccountable 527s.

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