CCP: California public financing bill poses serious First Amendment concerns

The Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) highlighted serious First Amendment concerns in Assembly Bill 583, which would establish a plan for the public financing of campaigns for the 2015 Secretary of State campaign, in a letter the educational group sent today to state senators.

The Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the bill August 4, 2008.

If enacted, the bill would undermine "the First Amendment guarantees of unhindered and robust political speech," writes CCP president Sean Parnell.  "The program essentially puts the government in the business of deciding when California voters have ‘heard enough,’ a notion entirely at odds with the First Amendment."

In addition, taxpayer -financed campaigns "have generally failed to accomplish their stated goals in other places they have been tried," Parnell counsels.

"The design of A.B. 583 is prejudiced against nonparticipating candidates," Parnell continues.  "In particular, Article 5 of the bill provides that subsidized candidates are granted additional taxpayer funds once a nonparticipating candidate outspends them…The practical effect of this is that nonparticipating candidates are penalized…the nonparticipating candidate must spend money to raise money, whereas the subsidized candidate simply has to wait for the Commission to mail a check."

Parnell further notes that nonparticipating candidates are burdened by cumbersome reporting requirements and would-be contributors to a non-particpating candidate may be discouraged from contributing.

"After all, why contribute when your donation will be cancelled out by your own tax dollars?" Parnell asks.  "A.B. 583 silences private citizens."

Last, Parnell observes that taxpayer-financed campaigns have failed to live up to their promises of more competitive elections, greater citizen participation, and decreased "influence" of "special interests," in other jurisdictions that have implemented such programs.

"Instead of promoting competitive elections, ‘clean elections’ stifle free speech and effectively remove citizens’ voices from the debate" Parnell concludes.

The letter can be found at http://www.campaignfreedom.org/docLib/20080728_CA_letter.pdf