Election Financing Methods: Time for a Change, Says Taylor Lincoln of Public Citizen

Public Citizen is a nonprofit organization serving as a voice for the people in the nation's capital, has recently issued a report on political spending in the 2014 elections. The report finds that, of super PACs that spent at least $100,000 in the elections, 45% devoted all of their resources to aiding a single candidate. This result contradicts a key assumption in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that outside spending entities are inherently independent of the candidates or parties they aim to assist. Taylor Lincoln discusses the new report.

Taylor Lincoln

Taylor Lincoln

Lincoln is involved in the Congress Watch division of Public Citizen. He notes that the Citizens United decision seemed to permit standing corporations and unions to expend unlimited amounts from their treasuries. The later development of third party groups getting into political funding “was unavoidable” in the minds of courts considering the matter after the Citizens United decision. The report from Public Citizen was presented at a symposium on campaign finance issues recently held in Washington, D.C.

Taylor says that one of the matters discussed was the bias towards particularly large expenditures by a few large spenders. Participants discussed the problems of advocating for social welfare matters such as raising the minimum wage that are popular with many Americans in opinion polls but that are unpopular with many members of Congress.

The symposium participants also discussed the possibility of more extensive public funding of elections. This is a solution that has worked in isolated cases, in Connecticut in particular. Lincoln suggests that the public is disgusted with the negative advertising in election campaigns. However, he says, we have not reached a point where public disgust is putting pressure on lawmakers to respond and to change the system. It will take a “critical mass” of public pressure to get that done.

Lincoln suggests that public financing of elections would be a big stride forward in improving the electoral process. It would help candidates who do not have access to big money donors to get enough financing to get their message out to voters without having to opt out and spend considerable time and resources in fundraising. And there is a law of diminishing returns in electoral spending. In a state where it takes $5 to $10 million to win an election, spending $50 to $100 million won’t change the results, Lincoln says. Lincoln also suggests that a constitutional amendment may be necessary as an antidote to problems with electoral financing.

Lincoln suggests that a day might come where all candidates who are viable could qualify for enough money to get into the race and get their message out.

Taylor Lincoln is the Director of Research at Congress Watch.  Lincoln has authored or co-authored numerous reports on subjects concerning the civil justice system, political campaign fundraising and spending, consumer product safety, financial reform, health care, regulations in general, and worker safety, among other topics.The Legal Broadcast Network is a featured network of the Sequence Media Group.