Gathering dust

The Center for Competitive Politics released this week its third study on the impact that taxpayer-financed political campaigns have had in Arizona and Maine.  The results should be troubling for advocates of these political entitlement programs.

Supporters of so-called "clean elections" program claim that taxpayer-financed political campaigns are necessary to ensure a diverse legislature and one that is free of lobbyist and special interest influence. Unfortunately, for advocates of these welfare-for-politicians schemes, the claim is more rhetoric than reality.

Maine Citizens for Clean Elections alleges that taxpayer-financed campaigns have "increased voter choice" and, "More people and different kinds of people are using the Clean Elections program to run for office." Advocates in Arizona, the only other state with such a system, make similar claims.

But a Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) review of the Maine and Arizona legislatures finds little change in the occupation mix of members of the legislature between 1991 and 2008, while the number of legislators from the "traditional" backgrounds of business and law remained steady in Maine and rose slightly in Arizona.

CCP also reviewed the gender mix of legislatures during the same time period and found similar results – only this time the average number of female legislators in both states dipped slightly.

In Maine, legislators from traditional occupations averaged 32 percent in the years prior to implementation of taxpayer-funded political camapigns, a number that has remained unchanged in the years since. Legislators with a business background decreased a slight 2 percent, but that reduction was offset by a 2 percent increase in legislators from legal occupations.

Among "non-traditional" occupations, Maine has seen modest increases in legislators identifying their occupations as education, health care, and retired. At the same time, modest declines were seen in legislators from government, nonprofit or volunteer, and skilled laborers. With the exception of legislators identified as skilled labor, these changes in the number of legislators from certain occupations began before 2000.

Homemakers, a small segment of the Maine legislature before taxpayer-funded campaigns, have vanished completely – no legislator since 2000 has identified themselves in this occupation.

In Maine, women on average made up 29 percent of the legislature in the years preceding taxpayer-financed campaigns.  That average has decreased to 28 percent since taxpayers dollars began being used in political campaigns in The Pine Tree State.

The results in Arizona are similar to those found in Maine. Among the traditional legislator occupations of law and business, there was a modest increase from 49 percent to 52 percent since the adoption of taxpayer-funded political campaigns.

Arizona has also seen declines in the number of lawmakers employed in the non-traditional agriculture and education sectors, and increases in legislators with retiree, skilled labor, and non-profit or volunteer backgrounds.

On average, women comprised 35 percent of the Arizona legislature between 1991 and 2000.  Since taxpayer-financed campaigns began the average percentage of women legislators in Arizona dipped slightly to 34 percent.

The results in Maine and Arizona suggest that forcing taxpayers to pay for political campaigns does little overall to diversify legislatures. Although welfare-for-politicians advocates may be baffled by the failure of their scheme to change who runs and gets elected to the legislature, the reasons are obvious.

Over the last 8 years, Maine taxpayers have spent nearly $28 million paying for politicians’ war chests, only to have virtually the same legislature return year after year.

Even the legislators who took taxpayer money to get elected appear to know just how much money the program wastes. After borrowing nearly $7 million from the fund in 2002 and 2003 to pay for more pressing needs, the Maine legislature has so far returned less than half the money. Consequently, the Maine Ethics Commission predicts this political welfare program will have a shortfall by the end of 2010.

The promises of "reformers" that doling out taxpayer dollars to politicians would allow persons from non-traditional backgrounds to serve has not been met. Combined with the scheme’s other failings, such as an increase in the number of lobbyist registrations, it is time for both Arizona and Maine to sweep "clean elections" into the dustbin.