For the past couple of months I have been a member of the Gallup Panel, which I assume is a rotating thing, answering surveys on a variety of issues. From time to time they e-mail me a roundup of results on particular topics, and today I received an e-mail that caught my attention:

…a majority of panelists say public financing from the federal government (57%) and contributions from Washington lobbyists (75%) are unacceptable forms of campaign finance. In fact, two-thirds of panelists say a candidate who accepts campaign contributions from lobbyists would not be able to change the way things are done in Washington, D.C. A clear 80% of panelists say presidential candidates should refuse campaign contributions from lobbyists.

I was interested to see that so many people are against public financing for political campaigns (I didn’t take part in this survey myself). Presidential candidates can accept public matching funds for their campaigns, (you can read more about how that works at Wikipedia), and in general terms I think it is probably a good thing. Public financing of campaigns, in theory, helps level the financial playing field for candidates who can’t raise as much money as others; our own Rep. Tom Tancredo, for example, can’t raise anywhere close to the amount of money for President that the frontrunners can produce.

Many Presidential contenders choose to forego federal matching funds because they don’t need it and don’t want to abide by the requisite spending limits that are attached to that acceptance. Where public financing could be truly useful is on a local level, and I know that some groups have discussed such a plan here in Colorado. Here’s a quick outline of how it could work locally from Wikipedia:

A small number of states and cities have started to use broader programs for public financing of campaigns. One method, which its supporters call Clean Money, Clean Elections, gives each candidate who chooses to participate a certain, set amount of money. In order to qualify for this money, the candidates must collect a specified number of signatures and small (usually $5) contributions. The candidates are not allowed to accept outside donations or to use their own personal money if they receive this public funding. Candidates who choose to raise money privately rather than accept the government subsidy are subject to significant administrative burdens and legal restrictions, with the result that most candidates accept the subsidy.

This procedure has been in place in races for all statewide and legislative offices in Arizona and Maine since 2000, where a majority of officials were elected without spending any private money on their campaigns. Connecticut passed a Clean Elections law in 2005, along with the cities of Portland, Oregon and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

It might be hard to pass such a measure in Colorado given that people are so skeptical of federal funds nationally, but it might be a good idea. I don’t know how well the restrictions work in other states, but that would be the only obstacle I could see from a policy perspective; while it’s good to open up the field of candidates, you don’t want to make it so easy that you get hundreds of candidates running and the cost to taxpayers becomes to overwhelming.

Nevertheless, our campaign finance laws are a mess in Colorado, and anything that opens the process up to more potential candidates is a good thing in my view.