There is a tradition in politics of dumping bad news on Friday, when it is less likely to catch the attention of the public. Even better to push the bad news into a three day weekend, when the news is already “old news” by the time people get back to picking up the paper and paying attention.
Paying heed to tradition if nothing else, on Friday the Government Accountability Office released its updated report on Arizona and Maine’s “clean elections” programs, the latest fad in the campaign finance “reform” community. By coincidence, the subcommittee the report was released to is chaired by Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, who happens to also be the lead sponsor of the federal “clean elections” effort, called the Fair Elections Now Act.
We’re just now beginning to really examine the report, but it seems worth pointing out the summary offered by the authors:
While there was some evidence of statistically significant changes in one of the five goals of Maine’s and Arizona’s public financing programs, we could not directly attribute these changes to the programs, nor did we find significant changes in the remaining four goals after program implementation. Specifically, there were statistically significant decreases in one measure of electoral competition—the winner’s margin of victory—in legislative races in both states. However, GAO could not directly attribute these decreases to the programs due to other factors, such as the popularity of candidates, which affect electoral outcomes. We found no change in two other measures of competition, and there were no observed changes in voter choice—the average number of legislative candidates per district race. In Maine, decreases in average candidate spending in House races were statistically significant, but a state official said this was likely due to reductions in the amounts given to participating candidates in 2008, while average spending in Maine Senate races did not change. In Arizona, average spending has increased in the five elections under the program. There is no indication the programs decreased perceived interest group influence, although some candidates and interest group officials GAO interviewed said campaign tactics changed, such as the timing of campaign spending. Data limitations, including a lack of comparable measures over time, hinder analysis of changes in voter participation.
In other words, no real changes as a result of millions of taxpayer dollars dished out to political campaigns. Sounds like what we at the Center for Competitive Politics have been saying for quite some time.