Wednesday, September 28th, 2016

On the whole, I wish he was in Burkina Faso

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Normally an e-mail from Jack Lohman is like getting an e-mail from Usuman Sankara of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, the national bank manager who wishes to smuggle some deceased relative’s fortune out of his poor country with our help. It is often of a similar fanciful nature: free health care, problem-free elections, scandal-free politicians. All we have to do is follow Lohman’s instructions and then we’ll have managed to suspend the laws of economics and cure the flaws of human nature. All it will require is a small down payment from the taxpayers.

The latest missive from Lohman reminds us that one of his pet causes, public financing of elections for state supreme court, is on the schedule for this Tuesday.

Lohman and the like will claim that public financing of campaigns will limit the influence of special interests on the government, causing the savings in government spending to actually be more than the cost of the financing of elections.

This of course is patently absurd.

As McCain-Feingold has proved (as have similar legislation at the state level), outside interest groups will merely funnel their money to independent expenditure campaigns and “public education” campaigns completely independent of the candidates’ efforts. These outside independent expenditures, unlike the candidates themselves, are completely unaccountable in what message they choose for their efforts.

At the same time, if a candidate benefits from the outside expenditure to such an extent that it proves key to their election, how have we freed the candidate from the influence of special interest money? Is that not the argument of the political Left regarding the influence of WMC on Justice Ziegler, and the argument of the political Right regarding the influence of WEAC upon Democrats, that while the direct contribution is limited the unlimited expenditure outside the campaign causes a disproportionate amount of influence? All we’ve managed to do is reduce the ability of the candidates to speak for themselves while absolving them of the responsibility for anything said on their behalf.

Going unanswered, what is sufficient funding for a political campaign, even one for the state supreme court? How many radio ads? How many television ads? Where should they be placed? How many newspaper ads? How many mailings? Reimbursement of mileage for campaign trips? Paid education of campaign staff? Campaign staff salaries? It all adds up to a nice bill, and Lohman would have the taxpayers pay for this “bargain.” This year’s legislation may be at bargain prices, but what of next year’s bill?

Will there be sufficent funding, and will it be allowable, for candidates to pay themselves a salary in their campaigns? Don’t laugh. Last year Congressman Sensenbrenner’s opponent Bryan Kennedy paid himself a salary out of campaign contributions. Will we publicly finance a candidate’s living?

Unfortunately, legislation like this has an appeal to those who do not want any contact with politicians, are uncomfortable with any political conflict, and think there is some magic way to have everything without cost. This legislation will only make elections more contentious, not less, and accomplish nothing except more encouragement to those who would legislatively repeal our first amendment rights.

Worse, legislation like this only encourages fringe candidates to compete because of the subsidy. Their motives may be malignant or benign, but what they lack in public appeal they’ll have in their pockets in public finance.

No, no, no. A thousand times no. Whatever the price we must pay for our first amendment rights, and not one cent to public financing.

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