A new study by the Center for Governmental Studies finds that Michigan’s 32-year old public financing system is in a state of disrepair and needs to either be overhauled or completely scrapped. The Center finds that the system is not making good on its goal of increasing the number of candidates and increasing public confidence in elections.
According to the report, Michigan’s system is facing two major problems–expenditure limits are too low and contribution limits are too high. Under the current system, individuals can accept individual contributions up to $3,400 while still receiving public financing. Over the past ten years, most candidates have stopped accepting public financing and due so only when they are facing wealthy opponents because it increases the expenditure limits.
The report makes four recommendations to remedy the situation:
* Increase public funding for the program. With increased public funding, the program can again meet its original goals: to reduce candidates’ dependence on large private contributors, provide them with adequate yet neutral sources of campaign funding, and encourage talented newcomers to enter politics.
* Lower contribution limits and improve disclosures. Whether or not Michigan increases its public funding, it should consider lowering the program’s contribution limits. This will reduce the influence of large contributors on the political process.
* Shift funding for gubernatorial elections to Supreme Court judicial elections. If Michigan cannot increase the public financing available to its gubernatorial candidates, the most desirable option, the state should shift this money to a system of judicial campaign financing. This would allow candidates for the state supreme court to run without excessive dependence on private contributions, and it would strengthen the impartiality of the state’s highest court.
* Abandon gubernatorial program. If Michigan cannot expand public financing for its gubernatorial candidates or transfer the funds in that program to judicial candidates for the state supreme court, it should consider abandoning its gubernatorial public financing program as a cost-saving measure.