Public Finance of Elections

"We believe, on balance, that public financing can be an appropriate way to fund most election costs. Government is the means by which society seeks to identify, achieve, and protect the common good. As this is a concern for all people, it is appropriate that the cost of doing so be shared by all. The use of tax dollars to fund campaigns of qualified candidates without regard to their philosophy can effectively foster the common good by encouraging more people of diverse backgrounds to seek public office. To the extent that public financing makes candidates less dependent on the funds of special interest groups, the public debates over issues will be less subject to domination or distortion by special interests." Renewing Participation in Public Life: A Call for Campaign Finance Reform Catholic Bishops of Wisconsin June 26, 2000

Public financing of state legislative elections is a proposition whose time has come. Catholic Social Teaching views the capacity to participate in one's government and the decisions affecting society as both a basic right and a responsibility. (See Catechism of the Catholic Church #1913 Catholics are encouraged to vote, and also to hold public office when they feel they can be of service. Consequently, it is undesirable that running for public office should cost far more than the average citizen can afford. Evidence at the national level that campaign contributions create obstacles to participation by the general electorate indicates that it is time to find other ways to finance political campaigns.

Maine, Arizona, and Connecticut have voluntary programs for public campaign finance. No candidate is required to select public financing. However, these states' programs have been shown to increase the diversity and the number of candidates seeking election, and fewer seats are uncontested. Publicly financed candidates say they spend more time listening to the concerns of their constituents. Many say that it has resulted in increased public policy directed toward the common good and less that appears directed toward satisfying large campaign contributors.

In the 2000 election cycle, less than a quarter of a percent of West Virginians made a contribution to a political campaign. Yet the cost of elections continues to rise in every cycle. Voluntary public financing is one practical way of addressing this inequity. Such financing would help to re-engage West Virginians in our political process. More variety and fewer uncontested races could increase voter turnout and help achieve the goal, ratified by the Catholic Church, of maximum public participation in our government.

Suggested Policy Directions

We support

  • A voluntary public financing program
  • A voluntary check–off on WV income tax forms to help support the program
  • Exploration of a variety of funding mechanisms such as a percentage of unclaimed assets, a percentage of funds available as surplus, etc.