The Lie Behind Public Financing of Political Campaigns

campaign-financeDemocrats in the California Legislature have presented Gov. Jerry Brown with a bill that would legalize public financing of political campaigns, similar to initiatives that have taken root in several cities and states across the country. This is not only a bad idea that will in fact result in more special interest involvement in elections, it also is an end-around by the Legislature to impose its will against that of the citizens they represent. The California Political Reform Act states that no taxpayer money may be spent by the government on political campaigns. This political spending provision was passed by voter referendum in 1988.

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The California Constitution requires that any measure passed by the voters can be undone only by a second ballot measure, unless provided for otherwise in the act. When this ban on taxpayer funding of political campaigns was passed, it specified that no changes could be made unless it was by passage of a subsequent ballot measure, or by a two-thirds majority of the Legislature; and only changes that “would further the purposes” of the act would be allowed via legislation. Unsurprisingly, Democratic lawmakers have adapted the Orwellian premise that furthering the purpose of a voter-backed ban on taxpayer financing of political campaigns means undoing the law without assent from the voters.

The disregard that lawmakers in California have for their constituents is clear, and it should be clearer still to all Californians what this type of legislation will do to the political process. Far from ridding politics of special interest influence, forcing taxpayers to fund political candidacies that they oppose will increase the power and leverage that certain special interests wield in the state capitol.

To become eligible for taxpayer campaign funds, a candidate must first accumulate a certain number of small, private donations. Knowing this, special interest organizations can simply direct members and supporters to contribute enough small-dollar donations to meet the public financing threshold. In this way, a special interest group can turn a number of small donations into massive taxpayer funds directed to their preferred candidate, while the special interest group can still buoy their candidate with independent expenditures. The result is that the hand-picked candidate has the benefit of special interest support and the tax dollars of hundreds of thousands of voters, many of whom may not even support the candidate.

Supporters of taxpayer-funded political campaigns like to think that they are eliminating a great evil from politics. But a publicly funded candidate is under the same influence of special interests as a privately funded candidate, the only difference being that the candidate accepting taxpayer dollars can exude some moral superiority while still under the thumb of their special interest benefactors.

The truth is that money is a great barrier to entry in politics, and incumbents already in office know that. To effectively communicate a message to voters does, in fact, require money. The candidates best-armed to communicate a message to voters are incumbents, as they have already proven their worth to one special interest group or another, and have been rewarded with campaign funding. A lesser-known challenger does not have the same ability to reach out to a special interest group that can bundle enough small donations to reach the threshold for public funding of a campaign.

Democrats in Sacramento, as eager as ever to retain and expand power, have now conceived of a plan to limit political competition by making it more difficult for candidates to compete against incumbents that are backed by powerful unions, trial lawyers and other progressive interest groups. Rather than give greater voice to candidates that are supported by voters and not special interests, this misleading legislative proposal ensures that taxpayers will be forced to fund candidates who articulate views and opinions they may vehemently oppose. Better yet, their proposal to have your tax dollars subsidize their political campaigns, regardless if you might disagree with their ideas, is in direct defiance of the will of the voters and of California law.

Special interest groups are very powerful in California because our state government is very powerful. Government overreach pervades every facet of our day-to-day life in California, and special interests will continue to lobby lawmakers to gain preferential treatment from the Leviathan. If lawmakers were truly interested in reducing the influence of special interest money in politics, they would not force taxpayers to fund their campaigns, but rather advocate for legislation that reduces the power and influence the government has over the people. But how likely is that?

Alexander Tomescu is an associate attorney at Wewer & Lacy, LLP, focusing in the practice of election and campaign law.


  1. Great points!

  2. Another example of the hypocritical nature of liberals who fail to live up to the standards they profess and a conscious policy of duplicity. Thanks to the author for shining a light on this, in my opinion, little known effort of Dems in our once great state of California.

  3. Very interesting perspective on public financing, indeed the article raises the curtain on a principle that is usually championed as a great and true noble cause. Takes a courageous person to argue the other side of the debate. Conversley, the article’s classic stereotyping of certain groups like trial lawyers and unions reveals a partisan bent which takes away from the credibility of the message.

  4. Stand and Be Heard says

    Mr. Tomescu, message received but please keep in mind the big picture. For literally decades, our selfless governor Jerry Brown has worked to preserve California’s fragile environment despite the Right’s relentless mocking and ideological derision. I deeply believe the companies, groups, and noble organizations that have supported Governor Brown over the years have averted CA from becoming an ecological wasteland! To your article, I’m little interested where campaign funds come from so long as they support a genuine candidate (and cause) that put Californian taxpayers first! There are more important things in life than money. It’s time we ALL get on the side of nature!

  5. Great article!

  6. Stand and be heard, If you are talking about Jerry the Incompetent’s stand on global warming et al, you are as loony as he. He is spending a fortune on chasing nothing. There has been no warming fo 20+ years. And now German scientists have found that NASA/NOAA have altered early records by making them colder which show “warming” today. CO2 is a very necessary trace gas. It controls growth of plants. Why do you think they run greenhouses at 1000ppm? And mankind is responsible for only 6% of the CO2 emitted. The other 94% comes from nature and that enormous figure is about .0000234% of the atmosphere divided among the 200+ nations of the world. Tell me how much Kalifornia is responsible for? And Jerry is wrecking the State becasue of this unmeasurable amount? Instead of his choo-choo to nowhere, he would be better off funding H2 fueling stations across the State. That would at least attack “smog”.

  7. This is another example of how the liberal army is relentlessly chipping away at the foundation this country was built on in an effort to shape and redirect the country to big government without constitutional freedom. Great Column Alex!

  8. You rightly expose the Legislature’s unauthorized reach into the province of the citizenry as constitutionally outrageous and indicative of an alarmig pattern. But I wonder if you actually mean to imply that the current campaign finance structure avoids the same ills as result from public financing. Incumbents, “grassroots” candidates, judges, or even that “self-funded” demionac are all monied individuals with industry connections, if not tethers. Neither method fixes the access problem: that of potential candidates to run for office, and that of special interests or “Big Interest” to the democratic process.

  9. Still another comprehensive and very well presented argument by Mr. Tomescu. The “Orwellian” United States government has already desecrated the Federal Constitution and, unfortunately, it could just be a matter of time before this condition trickles down, or floods, the California State Constitution. If and when that happens we citizens of California will lose much more in the future than the result of Jerry Brown signing this Bill. Let’s hope that Governor Brown has the foresight, wisdom and honesty to recognize this and kills this Bill in order to take a step towards protecting all of our State Constitutional rights both now and in the future.

    Keep up the good work Mr.Tomescu! We need more people like you whose first interest is in protecting and solidifying our rights.

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