Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) president Sean Parnell will testify to the New Jersey General Assembly's State Government Committee this afternoon at 2:00 p.m. concerning "The 2009 New Jersey Fair and Clean Elections Pilot Project Act," set to be introduced today.
Parnell's testimony will educate the committee on the results of New Jersey's most recent attempt at taxpayer-financed political campaigns as well as the impact that taxpayer-financed campaigns have had in other states.
Excerpts of Parnell's prepared remarks are below:
Advocates of these programs claim they will reduce so-called "special interest" influence, make campaigns more competitive, reduce campaign spending, allow more women and others from "non-traditional" backgrounds to be elected, increase voter turnout, and end negative campaigning. As New Jersey's own experience demonstrates, taxpayer funding of political campaigns fails to achieve these objectives. Perhaps the greatest and most obvious failure of so-called "clean elections" is that such programs do not change the way legislators vote. A study in Arizona compared legislators elected with taxpayer dollars to those elected relying on private, voluntary contributions. The study found that legislators elected with taxpayer dollars voted no differently than those elected with private, voluntary contributions.
This should not be surprising. Research has consistently found that contributions have very little influence on elected officials and how they vote. Legislators tend to hold strong, although wildly divergent, beliefs about what constitutes good public policy, and collect contributions from like-minded individuals and groups who wish to see them in office.
As a fairly simple test of this proposition, I would like the members of the committee to ask themselves, what changes in voting patterns or bill sponsorship have you seen among the legislators who have been elected with taxpayer dollars in 2005 and 2007?
Are there any legislators who previously accepted contributions from the National Rifle Association now advocating for gun control measures? Have any who previously accepted contributions from the New Jersey Education Association come to support vouchers for public school students? Have there been any other notable changes in votes by any of those elected with taxpayer dollars?
The answer, I strongly suspect, is no. Simply put, changing the source of funding for candidates will have little if any impact on how legislators make decisions.
New Jersey's 2007 experiment also failed to increase competitiveness. Every incumbent running for re-election won, and the victory margins by party actually increased in 6 of the 9 races.
Other states have found that taxpayer funding of political campaigns does not lead to a greater number of women and "ordinary citizens" being elected to office.
Business and law are generally considered "traditional" occupations for state legislators. In both Arizona and Maine, the number of legislators from these "traditional" backgrounds has not declined since they adopted taxpayer funding of political campaigns.
And in both states legislators identifying themselves as "homemakers" have almost entirely vanished while the number of women serving in the legislature has actually declined very slightly.
Voter turnout in 2 of the 3 districts in New Jersey actually fell, hardly a sign of success and contrary to the predictions of so-called "reformers."
And judging by the complaints about ads run in the 14th District against Linda Greenstein and Wayne DeAngelo, the goals of ending negative advertising and preventing out-of-state money from influencing New Jersey elections were not achieved either.
More broadly, the most significant failure of taxpayer funded political campaigns is that they do not in any way increase the willingness of legislators to address difficult issues, or lead to improved policy decisions, or enhance the quality of life for citizens, or make resolving problems any easier.
A review the other day of the web sites of several public policy and news organizations in Arizona and Maine confirm this point.
Among the issues that Arizona is currently facing:
- The worst budget deficit in the nation, $2.2 billion in 2009 out of a proposed budget of $11.4 billion;
- One of the highest home foreclosure rates in the country; and,
- High school graduation rates that dropped 7 percentage points over the past two years, and is now lower than before the state adopted taxpayer funded political campaigns.
Maine is also facing severe problems:
- It has suspended enrollment in their "Dirigo Health" plan, a program that has barely put a dent in the number of uninsured citizens while spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars;
- Unemployment in Maine is two-tenths of a percent higher than the New England average, and the state has below-average job growth as well; and
- With the second-highest tax burden in the country, taxpayer funded political campaigns do not appear to have saved Maine citizens any money.
These are just a few examples of significant issues legislators are dealing with in these two states, and are problems no different than those facing states without taxpayer funding of political campaigns. As this demonstrates, diverting taxpayer dollars from other public priorities has not enabled either state to somehow transform state government or achieve breakthroughs in public policy.
These are just a few of the shortcomings of taxpayer-funded political campaigns in New Jersey and elsewhere. I hope you will refer to Appendix 5 and other research by my organization and other scholars that further details the failings of these programs.