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Take the politicians off welfare

By Scott Tibbs, June 28, 2011

The US Supreme Court case about public financing of elections in Arizona illustrates why meddling politicians have it wrong on campaign finance, especially when it comes to public funding.

The big issue here is public financing of campaigns. In other words, turning politicians into welfare queens. Instead of working to raise their own donations, politicians can simply put their hand out and the government will forcibly confiscate money from taxpayers at the point of a gun and hand it to that politician.

Public financing has the goal of eliminating corruption in government, which is a legitimate concern. Making politicians into welfare queens is not the way to solve it. Government should not be funding political candidates, especially when it gives extra money to candidates in order to ensure "fairness" in the face of a well-funded opponent.

The best way to battle corruption is with sunshine. This means full disclosure of employment practices of elected officials, and full disclosure of campaign funding. One solution is to require that campaign finance ties be prominently disclosed in legislation and regulations. For example, if Construction Firm A donates to Politician B, that would have to be disclosed in legislation authored by B (such as new highway construction) that would benefit A.

This is not anything new. Candidates and elected officials are already required to disclose personal finance records for the sake of exposing potential conflicts of interest. There's no reason that campaign finance laws cannot be updated to include the same information. All of this would be posted to an easily-navigated public web site.

Speaking of web sites, we live in a different world than existed even in 1998, when the Arizona law was passed. Internet access is much more ubiquitous now than before, allowing for information to be spread "virally" though blogs, social media and electronic mail. Candidates are now much more able to get their message out via the Internet, and the Internet also offers many opportunities for fundraising -something that helped Barack Obama in 2008.

Government should be a neutral observer in elections - stepping in only to enforce violations of the law and not taking sides by giving money to one candidate or another. All public funding should be eliminated.

And while we are at it, we should eliminate the unfair advantage that incumbents have to send glossy, full color (and taxpayer-funded) "informational" mailings to voters - mailings that are only to enhance the politician's name ID.