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Subsidizing Democracy

How Public Funding Changes Elections and How It Can Work in the Future

by Michael G. Miller

Publication Year: 2013

In the wake of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010), the case that allowed corporate and union spending in elections, many Americans despaired over the corrosive influence that private and often anonymous money can have on political platforms, campaigns, and outcomes at the federal and state level. In McComish v. Bennett (2011), the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the matching funds feature of so-called “Clean Elections” public financing laws, but there has been no strong challenge to the constitutionality of public funding as such. In Subsidizing Democracy, Michael G. Miller considers the impact of state-level public election financing on political campaigns through the eyes of candidates. Miller’s insights are drawn from survey data obtained from more than 1,000 candidates, elite interview testimony, and twenty years of election data. This book is therefore not only an effort to judge the effects of existing public election funding but also a study of elite behavior, campaign effects, and the structural factors that influence campaigns and voters.

The presence of publicly funded candidates in elections, Miller reports, results in broad changes to the electoral system, including more interaction between candidates and the voting public and significantly higher voter participation. He presents evidence that by providing neophytes with resources that would have been unobtainable otherwise, subsidies effectively manufacture quality challengers. Miller describes how matching-funds provisions of Clean Elections laws were pervasively manipulated by candidates and parties and were ultimately struck down by the Supreme Court. A revealing book that will change the way we think about campaign funding, Subsidizing Democracy concludes with an evaluation of existing proposals for future election policy in light of Miller’s findings.

Published by: Cornell University Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xiv

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pp. 1-11

On June 30, 2011, comedian Stephen Colbert launched a satirical assault on the campaign finance environment in the United States. Standing on the front steps of the Federal Election Commission building, Colbert announced that he had received approval to use his television show on Comedy Central as a vehicle to “raise unlimited monies” for his Colbert Super...

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1. Why Public Funding?

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pp. 12-28

In American politics, money matters. As the role of political money has changed over time, campaign finance reforms have tried to keep pace. Regulations have been constructed to restore fairness, opportunity, and integrity to American elections. Fair elections are essential to any democratic system, but so is the absence of unreasonable restrictions on political...

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2. Strategic Candidates and Public Funding

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pp. 29-45

In our search for the effects of public funding, the first step is to recognize that participation is likely to change the strategic considerations that candidates make since it dramatically affects the costs—in several areas—that they must pay to wage a viable campaign. The recognition of this dynamic is important because an altered cost-benefit calculus will...

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3. Campaign Time

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pp. 46-63

Public funding holds great potential to affect the financial fortunes of participating candidates, but it is equally likely to change how they use their time. Whether the act of fundraising is “bad” in a normative sense is debatable, but it stands to reason that since public funding frees them from fundraising obligations, participating candidates are likely to pursue...

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4. Voting Behavior

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pp. 64-79

Particularly during presidential election years, state legislative candidates face a challenge in capturing the attention of voters, who are more likely to focus on high-profile races. But given that full public funding heightens interaction between the public and candidates, it seems reasonable to expect that the subsidizing of campaigns will also have implications for mass voting...

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5. Candidate Quality

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pp. 80-107

When it comes to assessing public funding’s efficacy as policy, no outcome has received more attention from political scientists than its potential to enhance electoral competition. This focus is understandable, given the relatively uncompetitive nature of American politics. It is a well-documented truth that when incumbents seek reelection to Congress...

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6. Ideology and Partisan Participation

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pp. 108-123

Although subsidies impart a clear benefit to the fundraising-challenged, other candidates might view a publicly funded campaign as having a higher net cost than a traditionally financed one. For instance, those who can easily self-fund may find the qualification costs to be relatively onerous. More likely, however, those candidates who perceive participation...

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7. Clean Elections at the Supreme Court

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pp. 124-141

On March 28, 2011, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in McComish v. Bennett, a First Amendment challenge to the matching funds provisions of Arizona’s Clean Elections law. The case was consolidated with Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett (since they were argued together, I refer to both cases with the...

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pp. 142-154

The Supreme Court’s decisions have narrowed the available policy options when it comes to campaign finance, but it is important to note that the Court has consistently upheld the constitutionality of optional public funding programs established in Buckley, despite ample opportunity to strike them down. The Court has held that it is the government’s prerogative...

Appendix 1

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pp. 155-158

Appendix 2

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pp. 159-162

Appendix 3

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pp. 163-180


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pp. 181-184


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pp. 185-194


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pp. 195-202

E-ISBN-13: 9780801469527
E-ISBN-10: 080146952X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801452277
Print-ISBN-10: 0801452279

Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: 1

OCLC Number: 865565867
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Subsidizing Democracy

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • United States -- Politics and government -- 21st century.
  • Elections -- United States.
  • Campaign funds -- United States.
  • Political campaigns -- United States.
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