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The importance of campaign-finance reform in one graph

By Ezra Klein,

The graph atop this post comes from Michael Miller, and it shows the difference that clean-election funding of the sort you see in Arizona and Maine makes in campaigns. The bar on the left shows how much more time candidates spend interacting with voters when they accept clean-election funds. It’s almost a full 10 percent. The bar on the right shows the much weaker effect you see from partial subsidies.

The context for Tucker’s post is that the Supreme Court is considering a case that could wipe out clean-election programs all across the country. The specific charge being brought against the policy is that it unfairly restricts candidate speech because it increases funding to clean-election candidates when their opponents spend enormous sums against them. How does this restrict speech?

As Tucker explains it, the claim is that by reducing the advantage that money gives you in an election, it reduces your incentive to spend money in an election, and since money is speech, “traditional candidates argue that Clean Elections chills their political speech.” That seems rather less persuasive than the fact that the absence of clean-election funding chills the ability of voters to speak to their candidates — a facet of elections that strikes me as rather more important than the incentive to spend as much money as possible.

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