“Clean Elections” No Barrier to “Special Interest

If you believe the pie-in-the-sky promises of self-styled reform groups like Democracy 21, Public Citizen and others pushing taxpayer-financed political campaigns, once the public starts subsidizing politicians so-called “special interests” will magically disappear and government will suddenly start acting in the “public interest” — whatever that is.

To expose these platitudes, the Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) conducted a study (released this week) analyzing donors who gave $10 to so-called “clean elections” candidates in New Jersey that allowed them to qualify for hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to fund their campaigns. In three of the four donor groups studied, interest group members comprised approximately half of all contributors, and in the fourth group approximately one third of donations came from interest group members.

Six interest groups — from groups as diverse as the National Rifle Association to NARAL Pro-Choice New Jersey — provided the majority of these contributions (and in turn, organizational strength and volunteer muscle) from interest groups.

Even if you accept the mistaken premise that interest group donations lead to undue influence, there is no reason to believe that a candidate would feel any less appreciation for groups who provide substantial aid in their efforts to raise the required number of qualifying contributions than they would if the group contributed directly to their campaign.

This level of support from interest groups for “clean election” candidates makes sense once you understand that organized groups of citizens who share a common agenda or interest are ideally situated to aid candidates in gathering qualifying contributions from large numbers of voters. Both candidates and interest groups are certain to recognize the advantages of this type of cooperation, leading to even more interest group support for favored candidates in other states that embrace these welfare for politicians schemes.

This is what has happened in Arizona, where former Gov. Janet Napolitano relied upon labor unions to collect nearly one quarter of the required signatures and $5 contributions needed for her to qualify for millions of dollars in “clean elections” funding. When she left office recently she signed an executive order granting organized labor certain benefits they had long sought, leading many to charge this was the unions’ “payoff” for their support of her campaign.

So-called “clean elections” has clearly failed to separate candidates from organized interest groups, and those claiming otherwise will need more than lofty rhetoric and wishful thinking to show otherwise.