Free Stumping for Candidates

Should states offer public money to pay for campaigns of candidates? That's what election reform advocate Common Cause and other like-minded organizations want to do – in some 33 states.

Such a move – in which candidates would receive money if they agree to certain limits in both fundraising and campaign spending – has many merits. But most of all, it gives candidates a way out of the entrenched practice of taking money from special interest groups to pay for costly campaigns.

Public campaign money would also widen the field of candidates by enabling people with shallow pockets to run against long-time incumbents with well-monied political friends. No wonder the idea's so resisted by sitting legislators.

Fourteen states, notably Massachusetts, Maine, and Vermont, already have public financing. In Arizona, thanks to US Sen. John McCain (R), an effort to repeal a public financing law was recently thwarted.

But Massachusetts lawmakers remain embroiled in a controversy over public funding of campaigns that was mandated in 1998 by voters – and since then the courts. Voters face a nonbinding ballot question in November on the issue. Legislators say they will use a "No" vote to repeal the system. The outcome could well influence other states.

Even though such campaign funding would further pinch state budgets, it might also end much unnecessary funding now driven by the corrupting influence of special interests.

Public financing of campaigns will draw candidates who choose to take a higher road toward elected office. States, and their citizens, can show they, too, are willing to pay to help set politics on a better course.

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