Thursday, June 17, 2010


Has the Supreme Court put the kibosh on publicly financed elections?

by Larry Geller

What will become of Hawaii’s public campaign finance pilot project on the Big Island? This paper, judging from the abstract, would suggest it is doomed.

The Lonely Death of Public Campaign Financing

Richard M. Esenberg
Marquette University - Law School

This paper argues that the recent decision of the United States Supreme Court in FEC v. Davis renders the idea of public financing of elections largely irrelevant. In Davis, a majority of the Court saw the provision of a "compensatory" benefit to the opponent of a candidate who spends more than a designated amount as a burden on speech. That burden, moreover, cannot be justified by an interest in "leveling the playing field." The paper argues that Davis’ rationale is equally applicable to candidates facing independent expenditures. It suggests that a public financing system cannot be designed in a way that provides asymmetrical funding (often called "rescue" or "fair fight" funds) to those whose candidacies are criticized by such expenditures.

If these efforts to level the playing field are not permitted, public financing of campaigns is likely to be either undesirable (because it will drive money to independent expenditures) or irrelevant (because such independent expenditures will swamp any conceivable amount of public funding). I argue that this is not an undesirable development, suggesting that we move from a model of control to competition with respect to the funding of political campaigns.

Link to abstract:

I’m sure we’ll see some discussion on this from clean election advocates.


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