Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Does Public Financing Encourage Political Polarization?

Rick Pildes

The LA Times today reports that the Arizona Clean Elections Act, which the Supreme Court last week held unconstitutional, worked in practice primarily to benefit grass-roots, insurgent conservative candidates. Laws like this might in general tend to benefit grass-roots candidates, at least in lower cost elections, like state legislative races; in largely conservative states, like AZ, that will mean grass-roots conservatives, while in largely liberal states, that will mean grass-roots liberals. Does this dynamic then mean, ironically, that public financing encourages greater political polarization, as seems to have been the case in AZ? Perhaps that's the reason Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who understands AZ politics on the ground, has (surprisingly to many) opposed the AZ public financing laws.

Here's an excerpt from the LA Times article:

One of the architects of the conservative lock on the Arizona statehouse is political consultant Constantin Querard. Over the last decade, Querard recruited grass-roots conservatives to challenge established incumbents. The key, he said, was the Clean Elections Act.

"The average conservative, the person who was interested in limited government, did not have a Rolodex that allowed them to go out and raise $30,000, $40,000," Querard said.

Querard stumbled on the solution in 2002, when a legislative seat opened in a solidly Republican Phoenix-area district. He viewed all the candidates in the GOP primary as too liberal. Three weeks before the filing deadline, he persuaded a homemaker named Colette Rosati to run, reassuring her that she would get state money if she rounded up enough backers. She won the primary, and an Assembly seat.

"If you can get a conservative competitive money against a liberal, the conservative wins," Querard said. "The conservatives who don't like Clean Elections love the Legislature Clean Elections gave them."


Polarization in the short term.

Powerful conservatives aren't very interested in democracy (they respect the electorate even less than powerful liberals do). Poorer conservatives want to be left alone, or when it comes to larger issues, to be led. However, once they choose not to be led, they will be forced over time to become aware of the responsibilities of power. The electoral victory of religious conservatives in Turkey (over secular authoritarians) has been a victory for modern culture, since democracy is the key to modernity.

Liberals tend to think only conservatives wage class war. Plenty of people who refer to themselves a "dirty hippies" happily supported Clinton the first time around. And the retreat from the Great Society programs began with Carter.

An interesting post! Aside from the fact that all programs have unanticipated consequences, I wonder if this doesn't also offer yet more evidence that the American left has been consistently outorganized over the past two decades by the right.

As if in some supreme court argument during which counsel is asked to reply to a hypothetical contrived carefully by one of the justices, I would suggest that if the AZ public finance measure clearly had supported the voter registration category called Independent, in an attempt to create a strong third party for Arizonans, rather than to process campaign finance reports thru hegemonic economic filters, the intent of the law would have been clearer. As the AZ statute was constructed, campaign finance legerdemain still could circumvent government controls; much like in the 2008 national elections new constructs let contributors continue to hide their identities. Electoral law has lofty ideals but in practice tends to be the same old. There are a lot of AZ demographics in the challenge brought to the supreme court; yet, I found much worth agreeing with in the written arguments of both Ch J Roberts, and the dissent opinion by Kagan.

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