January 11, 2000
Many people are disgusted by the way money is corrupting government, but few realize there’s a powerful tool taxpayers can use to do something about it - checking the box on Wisconsin’s income tax form to support the State Election Campaign Fund.
Supporting the income tax check-off does not increase your tax bill or reduce your refund; it just puts a dollar of the taxes you pay in the clean election fund. In return, taxpayers get limits on campaign spending, less special interest influence, more choices on the ballot and more competitive elections.
The proof is right across the border in Minnesota, where taxpayers provide seven times more public funding for election campaigns than we do here in Wisconsin.
Campaign spending is increasing here at a double-digit clip. In Minnesota, campaign spending actually fell over the last four years. Incredibly, no legislative candidates in Minnesota ran TV ads in the last election. Wisconsin’s airwaves are inundated with negative 30-second ads every election.
Minnesota candidates get less than half of their money from private contributors, making them much less reliant on special interest donations than candidates in Wisconsin, where almost all campaign money is raised privately.
Minnesota’s generous public grants and effective spending limits pay off in other ways, too. Legislative races are more likely to be contested. The average margin of victory is smaller and incumbents are less likely to be re-elected.
There is a way to make our elections better. Check the box.
Four Good Reasons to Check the Box on Your Tax Form
- The public grants to candidates funded by the income tax check-off reduce reliance on special interest money.
Every dollar candidates receive in public financing to pay for campaign costs is a dollar they don’t have to beg special interest groups and other private donors to give them.
- Public financing keeps campaign spending in check.
- In Wisconsin, where most candidates no longer take public grants and thus are not bound by the accompanying spending limits, campaign spending increased 11% from 1994 to 1998. In Minnesota, where virtually all legislative candidates receive generous public grants in exchange for agreeing to limits, spending actually went down 1% over the same period.
- Public financing leads to more choices for voters.
Almost half (46%) of Wisconsin Assembly races were uncontested in the last election. In Minnesota, races are 10 times less likely to be uncontested, with only 4.5% of candidates for the lower house lacking major party opposition in 1998.
- Public financing of campaigns makes elections more competitive.
In 1998, winning Assembly candidates in Wisconsin averaged 78% of the vote, compared to only 64% in Minnesota. Incumbents also are more likely to be re-elected in Wisconsin than in Minnesota. (Only 37% of eligible candidates and less than a quarter of incumbents in Wisconsin took public financing and agreed to the spending limits in 1998. In Minnesota, 99% of candidates did so. For those accepting public financing, the grants in Wisconsin are about half of what they are in Minnesota.)