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The title of my talk today is the “the future of public funding,” and I am tempted to say “there’s not much future” for public funding. The 2012 presidential election marked the first time since the presidential public funding law was enacted in 1974 that neither major party presidential candidate accepted public funding in the general election and the first time that no significant contender for a major party nomination accepted public funding in the primary phase. Congressional public funding appears dead in the water. In the last Congress, public funding proposals were referred to House and Senate committees, where they promptly died. In the current Congress, three bills were introduced in the House of Representatives, but there is little reason to expect action on them. The dramatic rise in independent spending through Super PACs and 501(c) organizations in the last two election cycles significantly undermines the prospect that public funding can achieve its traditional goals – ameliorating the burdens of fundraising, promoting fair competition among candidates, and reducing the role of private wealth on elections and governance. At the state and local level, a number of states and cities have adopted effective public funding programs. But many of these systems were impaired, and some scrapped outright, due to the Supreme Court’s 2011 decision in Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett striking down the so-called “trigger” provision of Arizona’s public funding law. Indeed, Arizona Free Enterprise is likely to be a barrier to the effectiveness of public funding laws and, as a result, a disincentive to the adoption of such laws.


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