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Trivia Tidbit Of The Day: Part 416 -- Public Financing Tax Checkoff.

A Landslide Vote-

You know that little box on your tax return that asks you if you'd like to designate $3 for financing of campaigns?

It looks like this:

Do you want $3 of your federal tax to go to the Presidential Election Campaign Fund?



Do you check that box?

Neither do ~91% of your fellow Americans (.pdf):


The somewhat complete data (.pdf & .pdf):

Year % Year % Year % Year % Year % Year %
1975 24.2% 1980 27.4% 1985 23.0% 1990 19.8% 1995 13.0% 2000 11.8%
1976 25.5% 1981 28.7% 1986 23.0% 1991 19.5% 1996 12.9% 2001 11.0%
1977 27.5% 1982 27.0% 1987 21.7% 1992 17.7% 1997 12.6% 2002 11.2%
1978 28.6% 1983 24.2% 1988 21.0% 1993 18.9% 1998 12.5% 2003 unknown
1979 25.4% 1984 23.7% 1989 20.1% 1994 14.5% 1999 12.5% 2004 9.2%

Apparently, the thought of dedicating over 1.3 billion tax dollars over the past thirty years to the likes of Sargent Shriver, Morris Udall, Sonia Johnson, Lyndon LaRouche, Lenora B. Fulani, and Jesse Jackson, just to name a few, has soured the American people to the notion of tax-funded elections.

Lyndon LaRouche, perhaps the nuttiest of them all, has received four million, six hundred eighty-five thousand, three hundred eighteen (4,685,318) American tax dollars (according to pulled together data from the FEC and OpenSecrets.org).

And, speaking of nutty, in 2004 Dennis Kucinich received $2,955,963 in taxpayer money to propagate his strange brand of socialism around Iowa and New Hampshire.

The list of questionable recipients could go on for pages.

Which begs the question: which candidates are worthy, and which candidates are questionable?

The answer to that question is fairly clear, technically-speaking, but extraordinarily fuzzy, philosophically-speaking. Philosophically, how can anyone justify Jesse Jackson receiving $3 million+ in 1984, or Al Gore receiving nearly $4 million in 1988, but Michael Badnarik (the Libertarian candidate in 2004) receiving a big fat zero dollars. Or, Pat Buchanan receiving $16.6 million in 2000 just so he could confuse old people at the voting booth in Palm Beach, Florida, while poor ole Al Sharpton only received a hundred grand in tax dollars in 2004. Neither one had any chance of winning, if the question was viability. Meanwhile, all kinds of other entertaining-but-unelectable candidates go without funding in each campaign season.

Technically-speaking, Buchanan was the beneficiary of Ross Perot's success in 1996 and 1992. Pat Buchanan received the federal dollars in 2000 because Perot reached certain electoral thresholds in... the Nineties. Philosophically-speaking, how does that make any sense? Why does it make sense to reward a "third" political party four years later, for success four years earlier? It doesn't really make sense.

Which leads us to the inevitable conclusion that public financing of campaigns is biased against non-establishment candidates. Philosophically, public financing fails to do what people assume it does: it fails to give up-and-coming outsiders a shot.

Unless every single individual running for office gets public dollars, the public financing system is philosophically flawed. However, financing the campaigns of potentially many thousands or millions of candidates is simply unworkable and absurd.

It's probably, therefore, time to scrap it. The American people seem to agree, based on their checkoff patterns over the years.


Previous Trivia Tidbit: Socialism Literally Kills.

Posted by Will Franklin · 9 February 2007 12:15 PM


I think you raise some good questions.

The pattern of declining voter check-offs to fund public financing of campaigns has been written about recently and polling has shown it actually has little to do with voter disenchantment with the program. It's primarily because most voters don't really understand what public financing is, how it works, or why it benefits them.

As for up-and-comers having a tough time, that's true but how much would we know about them and (perhaps more importantly) their ideas if we had no public financing system and they never got to say anything at all. These candidates contribute to the debate and expose new ideas to the light of public scrutiny which is a decidedly healthy thing in a democracy where "leading" candidates are often playing it too cautious to even discuss the issues nevermind new ways of dealing with them. It's good to reward smaller parties that have shown increased public support in recent elections for the same reasons. And candidates have to qualify for public financing so there's no danger of there ever being "thousands" of them running.

Lastly, while expanding the field of potential candidates to talented public-spirited citizens who don't happen to also be filthy rich is in fact a positive effect of public financing, it's not the only, or perhaps even the primary reason for having, keeping and expanding such systems. The core rational for public financing systems is to break the stranglehold of private special interest money on our political leaders so they can be free to serve the public interest once they're elected. Campaigning with neutral, no-strings-attached public funds means that once elected our leaders owe no favors to anybody...except the voters.

If you explained these and a few other basic facts to voters (which was done initially back in the '70's when the program first started after Watergate) you'd see a groundswell of renewed public support. This in fact was done not long ago and 74% of voters polled said they favored public financing of campaigns. (For more info see www.publicampaign.org or www.just6dollars.org or www.CAclean.org)

Posted by: Craig Dunkerley at February 11, 2007 09:00 PM