NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Taxpayer-Funded Campaigning Shows its Flaws

January 30, 2003

Since the 1970s, taxpayers have had the option of checking a box on their IRS tax forms which authorizes a few tax dollars to be directed to the political campaigns of presidential candidates. If the current status of the fund is any indication, this was not a good idea.

With campaign costs mounting and fewer taxpayers checking the box on their tax returns, the fund is falling further and further behind.

  • Although the check-off amount was raised from $1 to $3 in 1994, the proportion of taxpayers authorizing the transfer of funds to campaigns has fallen from 28.7 percent in 1980 to an estimated 11 percent in 2000.
  • The Federal Election Commission has estimated that the fund needs up to $36 million -- far more than the $4.6 million projected to be available in the next presidential cycle.
  • Analysts see the fund as becoming irrelevant -- with leading presidential candidates considering ignoring it in 2004, as President Bush is leaning toward doing in the primaries.
  • Accepting public money for campaigns forces candidates to accept spending limits also.

Analysts point out the system was designed for a campaign timetable that no longer exists. States have moved their primaries forward, to the point that the nominating process which once took until June is largely over by March. And money for successful primary hopefuls is not available to them until after they are officially nominated at summer party conventions.

Advocates of public financing want to rescue the system through a public awareness campaign which would encourage taxpayers to participate, as well as raise the check-off amount. But through non-participation, taxpayers have already clearly expressed their lack of interest in, and distrust of public campaign financing.

Source: Jim Drinkard, "Tax-Funded Campaigning Spirals Toward Irrelevance," USA Today, January 30, 2003.

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