Campaign Finance Reform: A Floor, Not a Ceiling

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I want to strongly encourage people who are upset about tough third party ballot access rules to drop that issue, and focus on two other things instead: fusion voting, and public financing of campaigns.

New York state is getting a state public financing law, and they already have fusion voting. This is excellent news, and I’ll tell you why.

I don’t have any problem with the concept of minor parties, but in our First Past the Post electoral system, there’s no way for them not to play the spoiler role. There just isn’t. If you vote for the third party candidate of your dreams, instead of your next closest preference in the Democrat vs. Republican contest, you certainly will be helping your least favorite candidate. There’s no two ways about it. That is what the First Past the Post system is designed to do.

If you want to get more fringe perspectives in the mix, then you need to focus your attention on First Past the Post, not individual third party candidates, or ballot access for them. That’s either some kind of ranked voting, or ideally, fusion voting.

With fusion, you can vote for Barack Obama or Bob Casey on somebody else’s ballot line (Working Families Party whut whuut), and instead of those votes being subtracted from Bob Casey’s total, the WFP and Democratic ballot lines get added together. So you didn’t have to take a risk of electing your least favorite candidate, but you did get to send a message to Bob Casey that says “I prefer your centrist blandness to the Republican alternative BUT I also want you to be more progressive.”

Public financing works with this too because it helps candidates who are strong on the issues, but not great at fundraising, compete for air time and field organization with better-funded candidates. It helps elevate some fringier perspectives, which is what third party supporters typically want, and that’s exactly what we’ve seen in places like Arizona where it’s been tried.

Some people misunderstood what I was saying about how John Hanger should drop out of the race, interpreting my message as “only candidates who are good at fundraising should get elected.” I feel strongly that the opposite is true, but am realistic about the importance of fundraising for winning statewide general elections in a state where we do not yet have public financing.

If we had public financing, it’s not inconceivable that I’d be supporting John Hanger right now, because he’d present an actual electoral threat to the other Democrats, and advertising support for him early in the primary would put some pressure on the top tier candidates to steal some of his positions.

The other key point to make about public financing is that, as American Crossroads proved in 2012, there are diminishing returns to campaign spending. At some point, more spending doesn’t actually buy you any more support, and you’re just wasting money. I don’t think we should publicly fund candidates right up to the point of diminishing returns, but I do think we should publicly fund them enough to be competitive (at least those who are polling above a certain point by a certain time in the race), and to the point where they don’t have to spend half or more of their time on the phone asking for money. We need a floor, not a ceiling.

This entry was posted in Elections.

3 Responses to Campaign Finance Reform: A Floor, Not a Ceiling

  1. Tsuyoshi says:

    I agree. Decent public financing of elections would basically put me out of a job. It wouldn’t be so bad, though. I would have to stop spending so much time begging for money from rich people, and start spending more time begging for votes from everyone.

    I am not so sure about fusion voting; I am not sure that WFP has had (or will have) a significant positive effect on New York politics. If you’re interested in making third parties competitive I would think proportional representation would be the solution. But then, I am not sure that has been a positive thing in the places it has been tried.

    I think the fallacy that get-all-the-money-out-of-politics people get into is that they believe that political advertising only serves to lead previously well-informed voters astray. In reality, very, very few voters are well-informed. In most elections, like for state legislature, city council, and offices even lower profile than that, most voters are basically just voting for the party they trust more, or in nonpartisan elections, whichever name on the ballot they can actually recognize.

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