Used under Creative Commons License

From our ever popular series of “Questions in Salon we can answer” comes this one about public electoral funding:

Could public funding of elections revolutionize politics?

Yes.

Obviously and clearly the answer here is yes. Only those who were able to gain access to public funding could get elected. This isn’t quite such a beneficial, nor beneficient, feature as some might think. In fact, among those who can think it’s generally agreed to be a very bad idea indeed.

No, do not get confused by the detail of the varied schemes on offer. Of which there are many, things like $1 per vote at the last election, an agreement not to use outside or private funding and so on. Instead, concentrate just on the major point here. Some part of the political system – the extant political system being the important point – will be defining who may attempt to become part of the political system.

This is a recipe for an entrenched oligarchy, quite obviously.

Think it through. You must agree to these varied rules in order to be able to get the money to fight an election. Who defines those rules will therefore define who can run and if you can’t run then you’re certainly not going to win. And that’s exactly what the problem is. Whoever controls those purse strings is able to determine who is going to be our next rulers. Sure, this is what is being complained about concerning the current system, the rich, or the public sector unions, get to decide who to back and thus who wins. But we have varied sources of funding which means that we end up with various people and interest groups being elected. Once we deposit that funding power into just the one place we’ve a monopoly over who gets funded. We’ll thus end up with a monopolistic monoculture being elected.

We also see the beginnings of this elsewhere. The European Parliament offers substantial amounts to cross-national groupings of MEPs. But you can only get it if you agree to support the aims of the EU. Something of a problem for the number of parties whose existence is predicated on breaking it up. Or more worrying, Vlaams Block. A Flemish nationalist – and not entirely nice – party was denied both public funding and the ability to raise funds privately. It folded, of course it did. But vaguely nasty Flemish nationalists should be able to fight elections, right?

And that’s the problem with public funding of elections. Who controls the awards of funding will determine who gets elected. And it’ll be a monopoly which decides, not the current market in viewpoints.