Trigger Funds and Public Financing of Campaigns
by Anthony Stasi
Apr 16, 2012 | 2663 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Remember when a guy ran for mayor and spent a ton of his own money?

That may not happen again next year, but we do live in the era of big-time campaign spending. The question is how will last year’s Supreme Court decision in Arizona Free Enterprise v. Bennett affect programs such as New York City’s matching fund program?

Most people in the center of the political spectrum would argue that a person who wants to spend their own money as they see fit can do so without much opposition to his or her First Amendment rights. The issue here, however, is not about the person spending their own money, but instead about the opposition candidate.

In city races, candidates can qualify for a financing match, meaning, for example, that for every individual $175 donation a candidate receives, the city can match that, for an actual total of $1,050 for that single contribution.

There are threshold requirements for this, however, and that is where the Supreme Court decision comes in. The program has limits. If a candidate does not opt into the program, he or she is not limited, but if that candidate does opt into the matching fund program, there are limits.

The decision in Arizona focused on trigger funds. If there is a 6-to-1 match on individual contributions at a certain amount, that is a great deal for a candidate, right? The New York City Campaign Finance Board allows for a maximum amount of matched funds for a City Council candidate to total around $92,000. That is a lot of public financing for a City Council seat.

But if the self-financed candidate is spending more than $250,000 of his or her own money, should that maximum of $92,000 go up as well? The trigger fund idea means that if one party ups the ante, the challenger can at least raise the limit to some degree. It will never be completely fair, but the system can be more competitive.

We have not seen the last of big money mayoral campaigns. Do not be distracted by party platforms either; they are all going to spend a lot of money. Morgan Pehme, of New York Civic, a good-government organization founded by former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern, explained that the discussion about this is changing.

“Fifteen years ago, the idea of public financing was only a lefty idea, now it is polling well in the center,” eh explained.

In cities where there may be strong minority party candidates, the idea of a matching program is the only way to break the establishment hold on our political system.

The Taliban and a Bright Sunny Morning

On Sunday morning, the Taliban launched a series of attacks in Afghanistan that followed a massive prison break in Pakistan where a would-be assassin of former Pakistani military general and leader, Pervez Musharraf, was one of the escaped.

When terrorists escape captivity, they almost never have an epiphany and turn their lives around. This is a second chance...to do more damage. It was a very violent day in Pakistan and Afghanistan, just like the ones that existed before U.S. troops entered the region following September 11th.

On a clear sunny Sunday morning, as these attacks were being carried out, I reached in front of me in church during the “peace be with you” part of the mass, and shook hands with an older woman, and then her husband: former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

It was a great treat to see him, but it struck me that with all the history that followed his six years at the Defense Department (his second time in the position), that seemingly little had changed in the region as far as violence was concerned.

Much else has changed, however, as there is a government where there was none before. But the sectarian violence that was there before is still there and still threatening any kind of peaceful existence.

It makes one think that perhaps (all politics aside) if democracy is going to flourish in some of these third world – or hostile second world – countries, that it might need to come from within.

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