Public Campaign Financing: Evidence and Opportunities for Hawai‘i
by Colin D. Moore, UHERO, Feb 28, 2023
•Concerns about the corrupting influence of money in politics have led to renewed interest in public campaign financing. Some argue that using public funds to pay for political campaigns can alleviate the inequalities that are endemic to politics in the United States.
•Hawai‘i has had a system of partial public financing in place for more than forty years, but few candidates participate because it no longer provides sufficient resources. Research finds partial funding programs, such as Hawai‘i’s current matching system, to be ineffective.
•Would a more robust form of public financing benefit Hawai‘i? This policy brief explores several recent models that could replace Hawai‘i’s current program. These include block grant systems that cover all campaign costs, “supermatch” programs that multiply the value of small donations, and campaign vouchers that allow residents to distribute public funds to the candidates of their choice.
•Advocates argue that public campaign financing can:
(1) encourage electoral competition;
(2) reduce overall spending;
(3) boost voter turnout and participation in the electoral process;
(4) equalize resources available to candidates;
(5) encourage more direct engagement with voters;
(6) increase public trust in government;
(7) reduce corruption; and
(8) foster public policies that more closely reflect the needs of average citizens.
•Most scholarship shows that generous public financing programs increase electoral competition, contribute to greater diversity among candidates and donors, and encourage more contact between office-seekers and voters. There is less evidence that public financing contributes to greater trust in government, reduces corruption, or leads to major changes in public policy. Some research suggests that block grant programs may increase political polarization, but other scholars have found no difference between the ideology of candidates elected using public funding and those who raised money through private donations. Public support of such programs is generally high, but many people are opposed to using general tax revenue to pay for political activities.
• In sum, any proposed system of public financing should provide participating candidates with the opportunity to match the funding of privately financed candidates. Generous public financing for campaigns in Hawai‘i would likely create more political competition by leveling the playing field and could be supported by a relatively modest appropriation from general funds.
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