If a “clean elections” report falls in the woods…


Late last week, the Eagleton Institute at Rutgers University in New Jersey released a report, Clean Elections: Public Financing in 6 States including New Jersey’s Pilot Projects. The report was unveiled at a press conference on November 13, and as yet has not garnered any press coverage. In fact, Googling the title or the authors reveals it does not seem to have gotten any attention anywhere, as there is not a single hit other than those from the Eagleton Institute announcing the press conference and the report itself.

In many ways, this lack of interest is a positive sign – the issue seems "off the table" in New Jersey, at least for now. Having read through much of the report, however, it’s something of a shame it hasn’t gotten any attention as it’s actually fairly well done. The report mostly documents the history of various schemes to divert taxpayer dollars to politicians’ campaign coffers (I don’t think the authors use that language, however!), and describes the programs in place in several states as well as New Jersey’s own smartly-abandoned pilot projects.

The authors are undoubtedly fans of taxpayer-funded political campaigns, but manage to keep from outright cheerleading for most of the report. At the end, however, their Joe Friday disappears and they suggest state legislators in New Jersey face two fundamental questions: "should Clean Elections funding be made available to candidates in all forty legislative districts, or should the program’s expansion continue only gradually?" and "should Clean Elections be extended to the primary election cycle, where much of the electoral competition in New Jersey takes place, or should it remain confined to the general election cycle?"

In their eagerness to push forward with taxpayer-funded political campaigns, the authors seem to have neglected an even more fundamental question: Why are we even thinking about doing this, when it’s been shown to have failed repeatedly in achieving most of its goals? (see here, here, and here for a sampling of the failures of so-called "clean elections" programs)

Fortunately for the taxpayers, the legislature in  New Jersey appears to have already considered this more basic question, and decided not to think about it.