Conservatives need to stop playing with Clean Elections fire

by Nick Dranias
Goldwater Institute
Bills that could end taxpayer-financed elections in Arizona are fighting their way through the state legislature. They are encountering resistance from self-described small government conservatives who have no trouble with the irony of using big government policies to their own advantage. But taxpayer-financed elections violate basic conservative principles and it is unlikely that politicians whose careers depend on taxpayer money will be able to resist their government benefactor over the long run.

Genuine conservatives understand nothing is more dangerous to liberty than force. As government is force, nothing is more dangerous to liberty than government. Government is a necessary evil, however, because men and women are not angels. And, as such, government must be structured on the assumption that evil people will inevitably seek to control it. It should be limited to as few functions as possible. Its powers must be divided, checked and balanced. And, in particular, the electoral process must keep government under control.

Taxpayer-financed elections violate all of these principles. Subsidizing politicians with taxpayer money violates the basic principle of keeping government as small as possible. It is an obvious extravagance, not a necessity. Even worse, by doling out the resources that are needed to run for office, the government wields control over the electoral process. This undermines a crucial check by insulating elected officials from the people they represent and rendering them dependent on the government for their political success.

No one should seriously believe smaller government will result from the abandonment of these principles. Angels do not run bureaucracies, not even the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission. As George Washington reportedly said more than two centuries ago, “government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” It is time for conservatives to stop playing with fire.

Nick Dranias holds the Clarence J. and Katherine P. Duncan Chair for Constitutional Government and is Director of the Joseph and Dorothy Donnelly Moller Center for Constitutional Government at the Goldwater Institute.


  1. kralmajales says

    ha…hysterical…even lefties have argued that the Clean Elections has done more for conservative candidates (Al Melvin anyone?) than it has for democrats.

  2. kralmajales says

    Oh…and I might add…here is the real deal. Without public financing many true red conservatives would ever have the money to fight in primaries against well financed, establishment candidates pushed by the typical business backing of the RNC. What you would get is more GOPlight…and Goldwater knows this, the RNC knows this, and so do you I think.

  3. The last sentence in the post is important. It’s time. Really? Taxpayer Funded Campaigns are a hook with a barb on it. You have to be careful how you remove it or you will cause more damage.

    Too often the Goldwater Institute is too busy looking for the “win” to consider how and when they get it.

  4. Cactus Jack says

    Jan wants an 18% tax increase and $707,000 to pay for her campaign at the same time. Terry wants even more. All while telling us that we have to make painful cuts everywhere else.

    Next week’s oral arguments should be interesting. Arizonans should not have to foot the bill for candidate’s campaigns anymore.

  5. kralmajales says

    Cool with me if you dump it. The democrats are doing a better job of fundraising…and it will likely ensure that more moderate GOP types like Paton, McCain, Horne will get the funds and backing from the party…and the nomination.

    Go ahead…smile…make my day!

  6. The only thing at stake in the current court case is matching contribution funding which has been ruled unconstitutional without the judge issuing an order to ban it. The basic funding will still be available regardless of the outcome of the case. Getting rid of the basic funding will require voter approval.

    Given the reporting requirements and regulations already in place for all campaigns, “Clean” elections without matching contribution funding does not add much more government control over elections than what already exists for conventionally funded candidates.

    Getting rid of the matching contribution funding will make “Clean” election funding less attractive to many candidates. Some don’t run conventionally to avoid funding all of their opponents. That should no longer be the case.

Leave a Reply