One unappreciated virtue of the Donald Trump presidential campaign is that it may finally vanquish the left-wing argument in favor of government funding of political campaigns.
On the face of it, Mr. Trump’s campaign would seem to be a textbook case in support of leveling the playing field by assuring that both candidates have equal resources.
After all, the New York Times reported in Sunday’s paper: “Mr. Trump continues to fight at a severe financial and organizational disadvantage against Mrs. Clinton, leaving him without the funds to campaign effectively across all of the states Mr. Romney contested. At the end of June, Mr. Trump had less than half as much cash in reserve as Mrs. Clinton — $20 million to her $44 million.”
This imbalance of campaign cash — Mr. Trump’s shoestring campaign struggling to subsist on less than half of Mrs. Clinton’s vast fortune — is precisely the sort of “inequality” that Democrats and even the occasional misguided Republican often propose to deal with by means of government redistribution of wealth.
A 2013 New York Times editorial about the New York State campaign finance system, for example, said “the most crucial reform of all” is “public financing of elections, which is essential to encouraging competition for legislative offices and reducing the influence of big money on the state’s politics.”
The usual voices supporting taxpayer-funded political campaigns as a way to get special interest money out of the system have fallen strangely silent now that Donald Trump is the one who is getting outspent, and now that Hillary Clinton is the one being aided by “the influence of big money.”
It’s almost enough to make a cynic suspect that the left’s support for campaign finance “reform” of this sort isn’t really about “encouraging competition” at all, but more about providing a kind of welfare subsidy for candidates that the left favors.
A lot of newspaper editorial writers and left-wing Democrats favor campaign finance “reform” that includes taxpayer-financed campaigns and strict spending limits. These same newspaper editorial writers and left-wing Democrats also think that Donald Trump is a coarse and ignorant bigot who is unfit for any public office.
Holding those two views simultaneously puts them in a predicament, because following their positions to their consistent, logical conclusion would dictate that their own tax dollars be taken from them and given to a candidate they think is a bigot. It would also dictate that the anti-bigot candidate — Mrs. Clinton — be forced to limit her spending against the bigot.
The system the left backs would tax everyone — including Muslims, Mexican-Americans, women, the disabled, immigrants. Then it would take their money and give it to Mr. Trump to help improve his chances against Mrs. Clinton by making sure he has exactly as much money to spend on campaign commercials and get-out-the-vote programs as she does.
Sound like a bad idea? No wonder you haven’t heard many cries for campaign finance reform along these lines in this election season.
There is a presidential public financing system already in place funded by a voluntary check-off on individual income tax returns. But to receive money from it, candidates must agree to limit their overall campaign spending to $96.14 million
in the general election and their spending from personal funds to $50,000
. Those limits are so unreasonably low that in 2008 and 2012 Barack Obama chose to opt out of public financing; he declined federal matching funds for the general election. Mitt Romney did the same in 2012.
If Donald Trump’s presidential campaign helps people realize that the idea of publicly financed elections is so bad it deserves to wither away and die, it’ll have been worth the trouble for that contribution alone.
Let liberals imagine a world in which every dollar that they or anyone else give to try to defeat Trump is matched on the other side with some multiple of taxpayer dollars to subsidize Trump to make sure that he is “competitive” and to counteract the “influence of big money.”
Meanwhile, it sure is funny to see how the calls for public financing of campaigns have a way of suddenly abating when the Republican candidate turns out to be the one who is being outspent.
Ira Stoll is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com and author of "JFK, Conservative." Read more reports from Ira Stoll — Click Here Now.
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