I’m super excited that FiveThirtyEight has relaunched. This article about why Arizona has a very conservative state legislature reminded me of another article I read about campaign finance a while back.
Public financing is seen as a way to get rid of the influence of money in politics, as well as a way to give legislators more time to legislate, rather than fundraise. Arizona has gone with full public financing of state-wide races.
Arizona has one of the most advanced clean election laws in the country. As long as a candidate for the state legislature reaches a minimum fundraising level ($1,250), the state essentially funds her campaign. (Only Connecticut and Maine have similar laws on public financing for state legislature candidates.) That allows candidates to stay viable even if they don’t have connections to the state party or local business leaders.
With the example in Arizona, it seems that one of the consequences of that is a decentralization of power, and more extreme candidates.
What about a middle ground, like financing floors, but not ceilings?
I used to believe that a campaign regime of floors-not-ceilings would help; by allowing candidates to raise money in larger chunks, they could reach their fundraising goals in far fewer hours of work. And given diminishing returns (that is, in that more spending produces relatively fewer and fewer votes), the incentive to just use the same time but raise more money wouldn’t be all that high. I think that was, alas, wishful thinking. The evidence seems to be that they all raise whatever they can, even if it’s a waste of their time. Moreover, if floors-not-ceilings succeeded in bringing viable candidates to more districts, even more incumbents would be even more obsessed with the theoretical possibility of a future plausible nominee who had to be scared away by building even larger warchests.
So it seems that financing floors wouldn’t help, full public financing results in more extremism, and campaign spending limits were down by the Supreme Court.
While I’m less sure that big money is a huge problem in politics than I was in the past, reducing the sheer amount of time that politicians spend raising that money is still something I want to see, and there don’t seem to be good solutions to that.
(As an aside, the FiveThirtyEight article can also be seen as a counter argument to “big money leads to polarization.” If public financing leads to polarization/extremism, then surely we can’t lay the blame on big money.)