How Electoral Gimmicks Like “Campaign Finance Reform” Gaming the System Can Backfire!

In the declining days of Our Republic, political parties and rabid ideologues of all persuasions are in agreement on one thing – coming up with ways to rig the electoral system to benefit Their Side, and keep The Other Side from winning. Cloaked in goody-two-shoes terms like “reform,” it is in fact Third World-like in the attempts to suppress votes or ensure Certain People win.
There’s just one problem with all of these half-baked efforts – rarely do they work as advertised, and the unintended consequences are significant. Some make one laugh, most make one wonder if burning the electoral code and doing a reboot with the concept of “majority rule through free and fair elections” as the guiding principle for a change.
Today’s case study: the so-called “Clean Elections” law that the Supreme Court recently ruled unconstitutional. Arizona isn’t the only state with such a law – this was a scheme pushed on various states (including California) by various non-profity, think thank-like groups that know what’s best. If you’re not familiar with the scheme, here’s a very simplified explanation:
Candidates have the option to run as a “clean money” candidate. This means they raise money with limits on how much a donor can give, there’s usually other conditions, and the candidate gets money from the state in the form of matching funds. Most importantly, they agree not to spend more than a certain amount. The caveat, however, is that if any other candidate, even one not participating (since you can’t mandate participation in these things), blows the cap, the state starts matching the funds the (usually rich) candidate is pouring into their campaign.
Now, the people that have been pushing this (now unconstitutional) scheme were generally of the liberal variety. The irony in Arizona? The super-right wing, anti-government, anti welfare types were elected largely because of this law. Yes, you read that right – people who want limited government and don’t like welfare or subsidies could only get elected in Arizona due to a government handout.
The Defenders of Small Government scrambling to figure out how to get their consultants paid without government cheese. Oh, the irony. (By the way, people in the political ad game like these laws because if you follow the rules, you know you won’t be stuck with a warehouse full of mail that’s unpaid).
Locally, the impact of the ruling is a bit more muted. San Francisco’s public finance law (one of many gimmicks to help a Matt Gonzalez run for Mayor in 2003 that never happened) doesn’t give out tax cash to candidates unless they abide by rules and raise private money first. They have to agree to a cap, but they don’t get that cash payout if someone else busts it.
Then again, San Francisco rarely enforces campaign laws on real lawbreakers. They’ll rack up some underfunded schmo who can’t afford a lawyer and has to figure out San Francisco’s crazy-ass laws on their own (they make the IRS look like paragons of simplicity) and nail them for fines. Meanwhile, you can run illegal fake campaigns for non-candidates for Mayor and take buckets of cash to the bank, free of worry.
Ah, but thats yet ANOTHER story….

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