In the United States

Methods of publicly funded election legislation have been adopted in Maine, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Maryland, Michigan, Arizona, North Carolina, New Mexico, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, and Massachusetts. In addition, public funding of elections have been incorporated at the municipal level in several cities.[citation needed] Wisconsin’s 33 year old program was defunded by the state legislature in 2011 by Gov. Scott Walker and the legislature’s joint finance committee. California recently overturned its ban on publicly funded elections, but charter cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles were already exempt from the ban and already have some form of public financing.

Some of these laws have run into constitutional problems in the courts. (2)When the Citizens United v. FEC decision defined money as a form of speech, the ability to limit campaign spending and publicly finance campaigns in cities and states came into question. Some portions (such as state supplemental funds for publicly financed candidates whose opponents outspend them) of the Vermont system were found newly unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in Randall v. Sorrell., but the core program of full funding of governor and lieutenant governor candidates remains in place. Portions of Connecticut’s statute were held unconstitutional in 2009, on the grounds that it unfairly discriminated against third party and independent candidates, but the core program of full funding of constitutional and legislative candidates remains in place. In July 2010 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld portions of the District court’s order but allowed the core program to continue.(3)

On June 27, 2011, ruling in the consolidated cases Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett and McComish v. Bennett, the Supreme Court deemed unconstitutional the matching-funds provision of the Arizona law. The decision cast doubt on the new constitutionality of similar provisions in Maine, Wisconsin, and elsewhere. As a result, the Wisconsin legislature eliminated funding for its judicial elections in 2011.(4)

Additionally, voters have not supported publicly funded elections in several referendums. In Massachusetts the system was repealed after a 2002 advisory initiative in which voters voted nearly 2 to 1 against using government funds to pay for political campaigns. Portland, Oregon‘s program was narrowly repealed by voters in a 2010 referendum. In 2008, a Clean Elections bill, the California Fair Elections Act (AB583) passed the California Assembly and Senate and was signed by Governor Schwarzenegger. Because of the ban on publicly funded elections, the law had to be approved by voters in an initiative in June 2010. On June 8, 2010, California voters defeated the measure by 57% to 43%. An earlier Clean Elections ballot initiative, Proposition 89 was also defeated in California in 2006, by 74% against to 26% in favor of a corporate tax to fund elections. A Clean Elections ballot initiative in Alaska failed by a 64% to 35% margin in August 2008.(5)

In 2013, North Carolina repealed its popular (6)“Voter Owned Elections” program of public financing of judicial campaigns with 900 (9) people arrested at the Moral Monday protests in Raleigh.(10)

Comprehensive public funding systems have been in effect in Arizona(8) and Maine since 2000. In Maine, since enactment, approximately three quarters of state legislators have run their campaigns with government funds provided by the state program. In Arizona, a majority of the state house and both the Republican and Democratic candidates for Governor ran publicly financed campaigns in 2006. There has not yet been a statewide election in Maine in which both the Republican and Democratic candidates were financed through the public financing system.

“Clean Elections”: Differences from traditional reforms

“Clean Elections” is the name supporters have given to some public financing efforts, used most prominently in Maine and Arizona.(12)

Some Clean Elections laws provide a government grant to candidates who agree to limit their spending and private fundraising. (13)Candidates participating in a Clean Elections system are required to meet certain qualification criteria, which usually includes collecting a number of signatures and small contributions (generally determined by statute and set at $5 in both Maine and Arizona) before the candidate can receive public support. In most Clean Elections programs, these qualifying contributions must be given by constituents. To receive the government campaign grant, “Clean Candidates” must agree to forgo all other fundraising and accept no other private or personal funds. Candidates who choose not to participate are subject to limits on their fundraising, typically in the form of limits on the size of contributions they may accept and the sources of those contributions (such as limits on corporate or union contributions), and detailed reporting requirements.(14)

In the US, in order to comply with Buckley v. Valeo(15), participation by candidates is not legally required. Originally, many Clean Elections programs provided that publicly financed candidates who were outspent by a privately funded candidate could receive additional funds (sometimes called “rescue funds”) to match their privately funded opponent, up to a cap, with the intent of assuring that a candidate running with private funding would not outspend his government funded opponent. However, in Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett, (16)the U.S. Supreme Court held that such “rescue fund” provisions unconstitutionally burdened the rights of speakers by intentionally limiting the effectiveness of their own speech. Thus since Bennett clean elections systems in the U.S. have been forced to abandon the “rescue funds” approach.(17)


Most Americans believe in the idea of getting money out of politics, but it has been a hard road for the few politicians fighting for it. (1)Because campaigns are now funded by large special interest contributions, politicians are in a catch 22. If they want to get elected, they need to court those special interests. They are locked into supporting special interests if they want a good chance of winning. 90% Of elections are won by the candidate better financed, and our new congressional representative spend more time fundraising than working on legislation. Corporations and big industry think tanks are trying to slow the change much like cigarette and climate deniers, by suggesting they are ineffective, and creating doubt works in America. Luckily, the idea rings true for Americans on all sides of the political spectrum, but dampening enthusiasm for publicly funded elections is their best to slow its progress. (2)Citizen apathy is an effective policy tool. Small strides have been made, but the ability to pass airtight legislation has been difficult as our politicians are locked into representing their investors interest in order to get elected to represent us. (3)Most of these laws have been easily outmanuvered by big money, but there are several organizations around the country trying to share the idea with Americans, and get laws passed so citizen interests are represented first. Slowing the change with a campaign to say it is ineffective is a wise tactic. Creating doubt can delay change.(5)

A 2003 study by the federal government's nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO), requested by Congress as part of the (6)McCain–Feingold campaign finance law passed in 2002, found that the Clean Elections system had failed to produce measurable benefits in the two election cycles run under the system in both Maine and Arizona.  This weak law was barely able to have an effect.  Airtight laws would most effective transition our government to represent its citizens before its political contributors.  Money should not be able to buy legislation. The average number of candidates per district, percentage of contested races, incumbency rates, incumbency victory margins, perceptions of interest group influence among candidates and citizens, and voter participation did not change notably. Campaign spending decreased in Maine but increased in Arizona and independent expenditures increased in both states. 60% of Maine and 37% of Arizona voters were unaware of the public financing program. The study concluded that "with ... only one election from which to observe most statewide races, it is too early to draw causal linkages".(7)

A 2006 study of the 2004 and 2002 campaigns by conservative political scientists Mayer, Werner, and Williams of the University of Wisconsin—Madison argued that the GAO “understate[d] the reforms’ impact, in part by making some unusual methodological choices and jettisoning valuable data.” They found that the candidate pool and competitiveness increased significantly, while the incumbency rate dropped significantly. A 2007 update, however, found that in the 2006 campaign competitiveness continued to increase slightly but reelection rates “returned to pre-reform levels”. The number of at least nominally contested races also continued to increase, reaching 100% in Maine. Mayer, Werner and Williams also found that women were much more likely than men to accept public funding but this had no effect on the gender composition of the legislature.

The GAO updated its study in 2010, noting that the number of candidates participating and the number of elections conducted under the system provided a stronger base for evaluating the programs. The report concluded, “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.”

A study by the non-partisan, privately funded Clean Elections Institute (which publicly supports Clean Elections) found that the number and geographic, economic, and ethnic diversity of campaign contributors increased significantly, with contributors almost quadrupling, contributions from people with incomes below $40,000 increasing by 40% and contributions from Latinos increasing significantly. A 2008 study by the non-profit, non-partisan Center for Competitive Politics (which publicly opposes Clean Elections) concluded that the process of gathering small contributions needed to qualify for public funding still relied heavily on interest groups. Another 2008 study by the Center for Competitive Politics of Clean Elections programs in Maine and Arizona found that neither state had seen a decline in legislators with “traditional” [law and business] backgrounds in the eight years since the campaign laws were first implemented.

Other studies conducted by the Center for Competitive Politics found that the programs in Maine, Arizona, and New Jersey had failed to accomplish other stated goals, including electing more women , reducing government spending (in fact in both states government spending grew more rapidly after the enactment of clean elections) , or meeting most other stated objectives, including increasing competition or voter participation.

A 2006 study by the non-partisan, libertarian-leaning Goldwater Institute found that “incumbency rates have remained near 100% [while] the number of candidates fell substantially … from 247 to 195. Moreover, the law has not increased minor or third-party participation in politics, and Arizona campaigns remain every bit as hard-edged.” However, according to the Clean Elections Institute, the number of legislative candidates increased from 135 in 1998 , the last year before Clean Elections, to 188 in 2004, as reported in the Goldwater study—a 40% increase. In 2006 there were 204 legislative candidates , a 51% increase over the pre-Clean Elections numbers.

In 2008, a study released by the non-partisan, non-profit organization Public Campaign, examined the demographic profile of $5 qualifying contribution donors in Clean Elections gubernatorial campaigns in Arizona over the course of the 2002 and 2006 elections, comparing and contrasting them with contributions raised by candidates running with funding from private sources — more than 67,000 contributions in all. The data were analyzed by zip code alongside U.S. Census data to determine the racial, ethnic, geographic, and economic characteristics of donors. The study, titled All Over The Map, found that Arizona’s qualifying contribution donors are more diverse racially, ethnically, economically, and geographically than donors giving to candidates who choose to rely on private fundraising. In nearly every category, Clean Elections $5 donors were more representative of the state’s population than were donors to privately funded campaigns. However, the study has been criticized because it compares donors to Clean Elections only to donors of $200 or more to federal campaigns – in other words, it compared $5 donors under clean elections to $200 donors in federal races, rather than comparing the common universe of all donors, or donors at the same levels of contributions. Federal candidates are not required to report names and addresses of contributors of less than $200 to federal candidates thus the information is not made public.