Magazine article State Legislatures

Get Rid of Needless Campaign Regulations

Magazine article State Legislatures

Get Rid of Needless Campaign Regulations

Article excerpt

Higher campaign costs are neither inherently good nor bad. They result, mainly, from tradeoffs we have chosen, wittingly or not, to make.

For example, nominating candidates through primaries, rather than caucuses or conventions, substantially raises the cost of seeking office. Would we give up primaries? Probably not. But how about reducing early voting? Just 20 years ago there was no such thing. Early voting raises the cost of campaigning, especially for state and local offices, as candidates must begin communication and turnout efforts earlier.

Here's another possibility: create more districts. The United States has 40 percent more people than it did in 1980. But the size of most state legislatures is unchanged, so more money must be spent in any given race to reach and turn out voters. More populated districts also make traditional low-cost campaign tactics, including door-to-door campaigning, picnics and rallies, less effective, given their limited reach. Adding five or six seats to a state senate--few currently have more than 40 members--could reduce the electorate in each district by 20 percent or more. Surely a 35-member senate could function as effectively as a 30-member senate.

Remember that campaign spending has benefits. Studies by University of Minnesota's John Coleman have shown that higher campaign spending boosts voter knowledge, especially for those least informed about politics and government. Higher spending also correlates with competitive races, which many consider a good thing. Given the benefits of higher spending, perhaps we should consider a "supply side" approach, aimed at reducing the effort needed to raise funds.

One idea is for government to pay for campaigns. Whether cash-strapped states should do this is a difficult question. Unfortunately, there is little evidence that government financing works. An Institute for Free Speech study in Connecticut found no change in legislative behavior after that state implemented public funding. More relevant to the effect of campaign financing on democracy, we studied Arizona and Maine and found that government funding did not increase the number of nontraditional candidates. …

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