Proponents of taxpayer funding for political campaigns, such as Arizona’s “Clean Elections” system, have long argued that it would make races more competitive, reducing the advantages enjoyed by incumbents and easing the path to office for challengers. A new paper finds just the opposite: Public funding increases the incumbency advantage. The paper, by Timothy Werner and Kenneth Mayer, is the first one listed at this link.
The finding is especially interesting because it is about full public funding programs, which is to say, those with the “matching funds” provisions at issue in Arizona Free Enterprise Club v. Bennett, the case now before the U.S. Supreme Court. Moreover, one of the authors of the new paper has long argued—including in expert testimony defending Arizona’s program in Arizona Free Enterprise Club—for the theory of increased competition from public funding. But the evidence belies such claims.
An analysis of legislative races in 44 states over 30 years shows that the incumbency advantage is nearly 38 percent greater in election cycles with public funding than in those without. That makes taxpayer funding look more like the “incumbency protection racket” that critics charge than any good government reform.
Indeed, the authors conclude, “Proponents of full public funding programs, as well as other, smaller-scale reforms, need to temper claims regarding the impacts of such schemes and restrictions on electoral contests and outcomes.”
This is yet more evidence that taxpayer funding schemes fail to deliver on their backers’ promises.
Used with the permission of the Institute for Justice.