June 21, 2010

Click here to view and here to listen to Daren Bakst discussing taxpayer-funded election campaigns.

RALEIGH — A state Senate committee’s vote today to expand taxpayer funding of statewide election campaigns is drawing fire from the John Locke Foundation’s legal expert.

“It is shocking that the Senate Judiciary I committee would have the audacity to expand taxpayer financing of campaigns to all Council of State races,” said Daren Bakst, JLF Director of Legal and Regulatory Studies. “The whole point of an ethics bill is to promote ethics, not to adopt unethical policies that promote the interests of self-serving politicians at the expense of the public.”

“This is a public welfare program, plain and simple,” Bakst added. “North Carolinians are struggling to pay their bills, and now they are being forced to give their money to politicians for their personal use. In addition, North Carolinians are forced to help elect candidates they oppose.”

The Senate committee just passed an illegal bill, Bakst said. “They know it and should be ashamed,” he said. “It isn’t a great way to regain the confidence of the public by pushing a self-serving illegal bill.”

The U.S. Supreme Court recently blocked Arizona from issuing so-called “matching funds” in its taxpayer financing system. At the time, Bakst urged North Carolina leaders to respond to the high court ruling by enacting a moratorium on their own matching-funds provisions. “North Carolina has the same type of matching funds, yet instead of the committee blocking their use, it decided to expand use of those matching funds,” Bakst said.

Matching funds are a central part of taxpayer-financing systems, such as North Carolina’s, Bakst said. “If a candidate decides not to take taxpayer dollars and spends, let’s say, $10,000 above a threshold amount of money, $10,000 in matching funds is given to the opposing candidate who is receiving taxpayer dollars,” he explained. “The purpose is to equalize funds. The effect is to chill speech because a candidate won’t want to spend money to help his opponent. The Supreme Court’s actions are a clear signal that matching funds are unconstitutional.”

Bakst sent a letter (pdf link) today to the State Board of Elections requesting that it not release matching funds in light of the Supreme Court’s actions. “There’s little doubt that matching funds are illegal, and until the Supreme Court decides otherwise, we need a moratorium on matching funds.”

“I believe a strong case can be made that State Board of Elections officials could be subject to individual liability if they release matching funds, and they should be held liable,” Bakst explained. “Some legislators may think it is fine to push illegal policies, but they don’t have to worry about getting sued.”

For more information, please contact Daren Bakst at (919) 828-3876 or [email protected]. To arrange an interview, contact Mitch Kokai at (919) 306-8736 or [email protected].