Every now and then we hear the call for taxpayer-funded political campaigns at the national or state level. Now, it’s even at the local level.
Two Portland government officials want taxpayers to underwrite campaigns for city elections. City Commissioner Erik Sten and Auditor Gary Blackmer contend that the current private, voluntary way “creates the impression that large campaign contributors may have undue influence on the city.” If we assume that to be true, the touted idea is still not a cure.
There are many reasons that forcing people to pay for political campaigns is a bad idea: junk mail, annoying dinner time phone calls, campaigners knocking at your door. Imagine being taxed for more of that. These are minor compared to the Constitutional issues that will arise.
The First Amendment-protected right of free speech is also a guarantee that people will not be forced to pay for political speech they don’t support. Thomas Jefferson noted, “To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical.”
Simply put, a gay person should not be forced to pay for the campaign of an anti-gay candidate. A religious person should not be forced to pay for the campaign of an anti-religion candidate. And so on.
The overwhelming power that government exercises is the reason why campaigns cost so much and why many contributors give away so much of their money. Limiting the influence of money in politics requires limiting the power that politicians wield.
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