a1 Cornell University
Since public election financing was first implemented during the wave of post-Watergate reforms, the burning question has been, “does it work?” Evaluations of public financing have focused on its primary objectives, which are designed to address familiar grievances: Elections are too expensive and not competitive enough. Corporate PACs and other “special interests” contribute disproportionately to incumbents because they are interested in purchasing influence. Candidates must devote so much time to fundraising that little is left for other campaign tasks. Lost in these considerations, however, is the fact that mandated financial parity changes the strategic environment candidates function in, altering their decision making and potentially changing the nature of elections. As fully subsidized elections gain increasing ubiquity in the United States, reformers must decide whether this is a cost worth bearing.
Michael Miller is a Ph.D. candidate in the department of government at Cornell University. His dissertation examines the manner in which public election financing alters campaign dynamics, citizen engagement, and political participation. He can be reached at email@example.com.
The author acknowledges Peter Enns, Theodore Lowi, Sherry Martin, Walter Mebane, and two anonymous reviewers for advice. I would also like to thank the department of government at Cornell University for financial support of data collection, and two great friends, Nicholas and Angie Behm, for allowing me to use their home as a base of operations in Phoenix.