"I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

Thomas Jefferson
Sept. 23, 1800

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Public Campaign Financing Harms Free Speech

The John Locke Foundation released a spotlight report arguing that North Carolina's present public campaign financing scheme is unconstitutional. They make the case that a recent US Supreme Court ruling against the "millionaire provision" of the McCain-Feingold law invalidates the spending limits on opponents of publicly financed candidates under North Carolina's system.

Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Davis v. Federal Election Commission struck down a federal law that punished congressional candidates for spending too much of their own money on their campaigns, Bakst said.

"Once personal spending on a campaign exceeded a threshold level, the federal McCain-Feingold law gave opposing candidates fundraising advantages," Bakst said. "This penalty on 'self-financed candidates' was called the Millionaire's Amendment."

"As the Supreme Court has made clear in its campaign finance cases, restrictions on spending money are equivalent to restricting a candidate's speech because money is necessary for political communication," he added. "The penalties in Davis were deemed to place a substantial burden on the free speech rights of these self-financed candidates. Justices also ruled there was no compelling interest for this type of speech regulation."

"Any reasonable interpretation of the Davis ruling would lead to the conclusion that North Carolina's taxpayer financing systems also would be unconstitutional," Bakst said. "As in the U.S. Supreme Court case, candidates in these North Carolina races are punished for spending too much."

"Traditional candidates -- the candidates who do not accept taxpayer dollars -- will trigger what are called 'matching funds' to their subsidized opponents, if they spend beyond a threshold level," Bakst added. "For example, if the traditional candidate spends $5,000 more than the threshold level, the subsidized candidate sees his taxpayer subsidy grow by $5,000 in matching funds."

Traditional candidates in North Carolina face an "even more significant burden" than the congressional candidates subject to the Davis ruling, Bakst said. "North Carolina's traditional candidates have little control over whether matching funds are triggered," he said. "That's because the state's law counts spending by independent groups, such as political action committees, against a traditional candidate's spending threshold."

With Governor Perdue pushing to expand North Carolina's public financing system, the Locke Foundation report is especially timely. No government, whether local, state or national, has a rightful role to play in the funding of political campaigns. If I want my money to help get out the message of a candidate, I'll send it to him or her. Using my tax dollars to fund the campaigns of people with whom I strongly disagree is a gross violation of my rights.

The idea that government money is free from the corrupting influences some see as inherent in private and corporate donations should have been put to rest once and for all by the Rod Blagojevich fiasco unfolding in Illinois. The answer to fair election funding is to allow unlimited private contributions that are disclosed on the Internet immediately after they are received. Everyone's free speech is protected and anyone can see who may be attempting to influence a candidate.

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