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August 11, 2009


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Brad Smith

Larry Lessig and Richard Epstein are two of my favorite people, but I want to comment on a couple points where I think they go wrong.

First, while I largely agree with Professor Epstein, he makes a couple of factual errors as regards the FEC. Unlike most independent agencies, the FEC is not a 3-2 partisan split, but a 3-3 split, with 4 votes needed for action. Moreover, the Commission actually rarely divides on partisan lines, and when it does this as often reflect ideology as it does partisanship. 3-3 splits occur in less than 5% of substantive votes, and even then are not always along partisan lines.

Prof. Lessig argues that tax financing campaigns have worked well in other states, calling attention to so-called "clean elections" programs in Maine and Arizona. In fact, there is very little evidence that either state has benefited from tax financing of campaigns, or that any of the benefits claimed have come true. After the better part of a decade,neither state can demonstrate more competition, better control of state spending, or serious improvements in state policies as such improvements would appear through positive measures such as higher economic growth, better educational attainment, lower infant mortality, etc. etc. The claimed benefits for diversity, citizen trust in government, competition and so forth simply have not come true and are not supported by empirical studies. Indeed, both Arizona and Maine have lost ground in the last 8 years on most such measures of citizen well-being. Arizona is in so severe a budget crisis it it auctioning off its state capitol building.

We also have significant experience with various other forms of public (i.e. "tax") financing, for presidential campaigns, in states such as Minnesota and Wisconsin, in cities including New York, and in foreign countries. In short, there has been a good deal of experimentation, and the claimed benefits simply do not appear.

Brad Smith
Center for Competitive Politics

Loren Castleton

I've posted a response to the discussion of Epstein & Lessig on campaign
finance reform. I'd be grateful for any feedback. My post is at :
www.lorenoflorien.blogspot.com, and is dated 20100205.

Loren Castleton

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