HERBERT E. ALEXANDER
Public funding was conceived and has been used to help equalize economic resources and to open up the political system to candidates without ready access to personal funds or to wealthy contributors. Government funds, according to advocates, are an alternative funding system designed to enable candidates and parties to avoid obligations, tacit or expressed, that might go along with dependence on large contributors and special interests. Public matching funds are also intended to enhance the role that small donors play in campaigns and, by opening up the nomination process, to make the system more competitive.
Underlying most public-funding systems is the assumption that new or alternative sources of campaign funding are desirable. This is particularly true when state laws limit contributions, as twenty-five now do, or restrict traditional sources, as all but nine do to some degree. The public funds are intended to help provide or — in the presidential general-election period — to supply all the money serious candidates need to present themselves and their ideas to the electorate. The public funds are also meant to diminish or to eliminate the need for money from wealthy donors and interest groups and thereby minimize opportunities for contributors to exert undue influence on officeholders. In the nomination period, public funding is designed to make the contest for the nomination more competitive and to encourage candidates to broaden their bases of support by seeking out large numbers of relatively small, matchable contributions.
The system of public funding of presidential campaigns has operated since 1976, and its consequences have been widely analyzed. 1 Twenty states also have taxassisted funding of political parties and candidates. Additionally, two cities — Seattle, Washington, and Tucson, Arizona — have enacted public financing, as has Sacramento County, California. Seattle, in fact, twice enacted laws. The first, passed in 1978, operated in the 1979 and 1981 elections and lapsed in 1982 when a sunset provision terminated it. The second was enacted in 1984 and was effective for the 1987 elections. 2 Much can be learned from these experiences with contribution and expenditure limits, public financing of campaigns, and related laws concerning election financing.