Federally funded political campaigns: The progressive left’s most unpopular idea or necessary reform?

Photo by Katie Moum on Unsplash.

The vast majority of Americans — 80% — had no intention whatsoever of donating to any political campaign in 2020.

Whatever their political persuasion — right or left — however convicted in their beliefs, however contentious the election, tweets of support notwithstanding; when it was time to open up those wallets or sit down with the monthly budget to write the line item “political donations”, only 20% of Americans chose to do so in 2020.

An even smaller minority of politically-minded donors contributed to political campaigns during the more recent 2022 mid-term cycle.

For the sake of argument, let’s say the remaining 80% of Americans could have donated to a political campaign in 2019, 2020, 2021, or 2022, had they chosen to do so. Making a political donation isn’t hard. In 2023, it’s easier than ever. One Google search and two clicks later, any American adult with a credit card can donate to a political campaign.

Some progressive Democrats want to change all that. Taxpayer dollars, these authorities argue, must be used to fund political campaigns.

Federal funding for political campaigns refers to the use of public funds to finance campaigns for federal office in the United States, such as the presidency and Congress.

This type of funding is often provided in the form of matching funds for small donations made by individual citizens, to reduce the influence of large donors and improve the accessibility of the political process to a wider range of citizens. The use of federal funding for political campaigns is a controversial issue and has been the subject of legal challenges and political debate.

The use of federal funding for political campaigns has traditionally been supported by progressive and liberal political parties and politicians, who argue that it helps reduce the influence of wealthy donors and increase the accessibility of the political process to a wider range of citizens.

On the other hand, many conservative and libertarian political parties and politicians have opposed the idea of federal funding for political campaigns, arguing that it amounts to an unfair subsidy for certain political candidates and causes.

The proponents of federal funding for political campaigns argue that it provides several benefits, including:

  1. Reducing the influence of money in politics: By providing a source of funding for political campaigns that is independent of wealthy donors, federal funding can reduce the influence of money in politics and increase the voice of ordinary citizens in the political process.
  2. Encouraging more people to run for office: Federal funding can help level the playing field for political candidates, making it possible for people who do not have access to large pools of campaign funds to run for office.
  3. Improving the competitiveness of elections: By providing a source of funding for political campaigns that is independent of wealthy donors, federal funding can help ensure that elections are competitive and that voters have a choice of candidates who reflect a wider range of perspectives.
  4. Increasing voter turnout: By making political campaigns more accessible and competitive, federal funding can help increase voter turnout and force civic engagement.
  5. Providing transparency: Federal funding for political campaigns often comes with disclosure requirements and other transparency measures, which can help prevent corruption and ensure that voters have the information they need to make informed choices.

It costs too much to get elected to high office in America, these advocates for federally funded political campaigns argue. The billion-dollar bar for President narrows the field of candidates and gives wealthy interests outsize influence in the election process.

To correct racial, social, and economic disparities in the political process, and to level the playing field, political campaigns must be federally funded by taxpayer dollars, according to progressive activists.

On one hand, they raise an interesting point. On the other hand, if this policy is enacted, not only will voters still have to endure a barrage of campaign mailers, fundraising emails, robocalls, commercials, radio ads, and billboards, voters will have to pay for the privilege.

Additionally, a political candidate with the wherewithal to raise enough money to get elected, and organize that much support might — might — be ready for the office.

If progressives think campaigning for president is out-of-reach for most people, actually performing the job of President of the United States of America is positively stratospheric.

Getting the Congressional or Oval Office job is actually the easy part; doing the job is another matter entirely. If campaign fundraising is enough to put a candidate off, they might not be ready for the job.

Some psychological authorities have listed “U.S. President” as the most stressful job in the world.

Nuke codes, full command of the U.S. armed forces, the responsibility of governing 330 million people from sea to shining sea? The constant danger, the threats, the pressure of constant media scrutiny? Not everyone wants to be President of the United States. Most people couldn’t do it — wouldn’t even want to try — if the job paid all the money in the world — which it doesn’t.

Kurt Vonnegut once made this pithy observation about the type of person who wants to be president:

“You have to wonder about someone who looks out over a vast group of millions of people and says to themselves, “You know who would be great to lead and rule all these people? Me!’.”

Federal funding for political campaigns wouldn’t help address the basic shortfalls of human nature; not much can, as least as far as government edict can decree.

Federally funded campaigns might have some benefits, but the idea of political donations is unpopular for a reason. 80% of Americans don’t donate to political campaigns; not because they can’t, but because they don’t want to.

And 80% of Americans rarely agree about anything.

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)