Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Subsidizing DemocracyHow Public Funding Changes Elections and How It Can Work in the Future$

Michael G. Miller

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780801452277

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: August 2016

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9780801452277.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM Cornell University Press SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.cornell.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Cornell University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in Cornell for personal use.  Subscriber: null; date: 23 September 2021

Ideology and Partisan Participation

Ideology and Partisan Participation

(p.108) 6 Ideology and Partisan Participation
Subsidizing Democracy

Michael G. Miller

Cornell University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter looks at how candidates can refuse public funding based on ideological grounds. Some candidates might view a publicly funded campaign as having a higher net cost than a traditionally financed one, due to a personal, ideologically based objection to the program. Given the rather overt expenditure of direct subsidies, one can assume that candidates who think of themselves as “fiscally conservative”—and are therefore likely to possess an ideological desire to reduce government spending—will oppose public funding as an unwarranted utilization of government funds. Such candidates would eschew subsidies because accepting them would be inconsistent with their values. And assuming that party affiliation is a useful proxy for candidate ideology, the chapter describes how the higher costs of participation for conservative candidates imply that Republican candidates will be less likely than Democratic candidates to accept large public subsidies such as those in Clean Elections systems.

Keywords:   candidate ideology, party affiliations, government funds, Republican candidates, Democratic candidates

Although subsidies impart a clear benefit to the fundraising-challenged, other candidates might view a publicly funded campaign as having a higher net cost than a traditionally financed one. For instance, those who can easily self-fund may find the qualification costs to be relatively onerous. More likely, however, those candidates who perceive participation to be costly will do so because of a personal, ideologically based objection to the program. Given the rather overt expenditure of direct subsidies, it should not be terribly controversial to assume that candidates who think of themselves as “fiscally conservative”—and are therefore likely to possess an ideological desire to reduce government spending—will oppose public funding as an unwarranted utilization of government funds. Such candidates would eschew subsidies because accepting them would be inconsistent with their values.

This implies that in Clean Elections states, where subsidies are quite large relative to both spending limits and the cost of a typical campaign, there is likely a higher proportion of candidates whose main motivation (p.109) for opting out of public funding is its incongruence with their political values. Even if they recognize that public funding would improve their financial resource position (and would likely enhance their odds of victory), candidates with very conservative fiscal ideologies will perceive the emotional or political costs of accepting government subsidies as too much to bear. Moreover, assuming that party affiliation is a useful proxy for candidate ideology, the higher costs of participation for conservative candidates imply that Republican candidates will be less likely than Democratic candidates to accept large public subsidies such as those in Clean Elections systems.

If it is a strong determinant of participation, then ideology is important in more than a descriptive sense. Advocates of public funding often describe it as a means to make elections more equitable. Generally, this rhetoric takes the form of “evening the playing field,” implying that the election will be determined less by incumbency or money, and more by the quality of ideas. These are noble goals, and they mark a distinct departure from the conditions in most American elections. However, if an entire class of candidates is likely to perceive participation in public funding as more costly, then it is important to reflect on whether the benefits that the subsidies impart accrue evenly or whether some candidates are inherently advantaged. Put another way, it is worth considering whether the playing field is more even for Democrats in full funding systems.

The Ideology Opt-Out

The candidate survey asked candidates who chose to opt out of public funding why they did so. The survey question allowed candidates to choose all applicable options from a menu, including a belief that the spending limit would prove too limiting against their competition, a strategic desire to keep other candidates away via the raising of a large war chest, and opposition to public funding on ideological grounds. Table 6.1 contains the proportion of candidates in both fully and partially funded states who selected each option. Since subsidy sizes or eligibility are generally determined by contestedness, I restrict the responses in Table 6.1 to those of candidates who faced major-party opposition. Of the survey respondents, 60 candidates ran in contested elections in the partially funded states of Hawaii, (p.110) Minnesota, and Wisconsin but opted out of public funding; all but 2 of these were from Hawaii and Wisconsin. In the Clean Elections states of Arizona, Connecticut, and Maine, 25 survey respondents opted out of public funding in contested races.

The most-cited rationale for opting out of partial funding is a concern that spending limits are unrealistic: more than 60 percent of traditional candidates marked that reason as factoring in their decision in the partially funded states. Given the fact that most of the traditional candidates in the sample ran in Wisconsin and Hawaii, where spending limits in 2008 did not reflect the cost of a typical competitive race, this result is not surprising. Roughly one-quarter of nonparticipating candidates in partially funded systems reported opting out on ideological grounds. Substantially fewer candidates—about 12 percent—felt that the spending limit would inhibit their ability to build a large war chest in order to scare away the competition.

A different pattern emerges among candidates who opted out of full funding programs. Ideological objection is the leading determinant of nonparticipation for candidates in Clean Elections states by a large margin, with over 84 percent of respondents reporting opposition to full funding programs on those grounds. In contrast, only about 16 percent of traditional candidates felt that in order to win they needed to spend more than Clean Elections would allow. The low percentage of respondents choosing this option relative to those in partial funding states likely reflects the fact that Clean Elections subsidies in all three states are well in line with typical legislative campaign spending levels. Finally, about 12 percent of candidates in Clean Elections states cited the necessity of building a formidable war chest as a component of their decision.

The leading factors in the opt-out decisions for candidates in each type of system suggest two preliminary conclusions worth deeper exploration. First, a majority of candidates in partial funding systems perceive the spending limitations to be inadequate in comparison with the spending typical of viable campaigns in their state. These results are primarily driven by candidates from Wisconsin and Hawaii, where spending limits were quite low relative to mean campaign spending in 2008. Second, while relatively few candidates in Arizona, Connecticut, and Maine take issue with Clean Elections’ subsidy sizes or spending limits, a sizable majority objects to the programs on ideological grounds. These results imply a (p.111)

Table 6.1. Percentage of Traditionally Funded Candidates in Contested Races Citing Various Reasons for Opting Out

Partially funded states

Fully funded states

N = 60

N = 25

Had to raise more than spending limit



Desire to raise large war chest to dissuade challengers



Ideological opposition to public funding






different calculus in the partial funding states relative to those with Clean Elections systems. In the former, candidates opt out because they do not see participation as sufficiently increasing their chances of winning. In the latter, the ideological costs that come with much larger subsidies are too much for some candidates to bear.

Describing Ideological Objections

Interviews with candidates in Arizona shed additional light on the calculations that various candidates made as they weighed whether to run with Clean Elections subsidies. Many conservative candidates expressed an acute opposition to Clean Elections that had existed since the policy was placed on the ballot in 1998. One Republican legislator, reflecting on his voting decision on the initiative measure, described it as a “very simple” decision: “I opposed the concept of taxpayer money being used for campaigns.”

This statement is a succinct summation of the objections that many conservatives expressed. It is worth noting that while no Democratic candidates mentioned a philosophical discomfort with Clean Elections, support among Republicans displayed a considerable range. Some Republicans advocated its immediate repeal, but others unflinchingly endorsed public funding in Arizona. For instance, one first-time candidate who took on a Democratic senate incumbent in a heavily Democratic district utilized Clean Elections funding without hesitation. He saw the program as having the blessing of a majority of citizens who voted on it, which legitimized the policy and made it “safe” to use: “As far as philosophically being opposed to it, I can kind of see where [other Republicans] are coming from, (p.112) but you know, over 50 percent of people voted for Clean Elections. Just going through what I went through, having that opportunity, I would wholeheartedly support Clean Elections. I mean, I just think it’s a fantastic program.”

It is possible that this sort of testimony stems from the fact that the candidate was running in a Democratic-leaning district where the issue is simply unimportant to voters. The costs of accepting public funding, at least in terms of a voter backlash, likely seem less acute in such districts. Other candidates reported similar nonreactions in districts that did not contain large majorities of Republican voters. For instance, a self-described “moderate Republican” member of the legislature who ran with traditional funding reported few conversations about Clean Elections with voters. “The typical voter I don’t think is too tuned in to how you’re running one way or the other. I explain it a little when fundraising, but typically when you’re with a group or a forum, that seldom comes up.”

However, the dynamics appear to be different in districts where conservative voters dominate. Another Republican member of the Arizona Legislature, this one a “conservative Republican in a conservative district,” recounted his successful efforts to overcome the program’s high-minded name in persuading voters to see it his way: “It’s gotten this terrible misnomer, I think; ‘Clean Elections’ is unfair to anyone trying to attack it. People in my campaign said, ‘Don’t refer to it as Clean Elections, refer to it as taxpayer-funded campaigns.’ For that very reason, most people think if you’re not for Clean Elections, then you must be for dirty elections. I think [voters are] aware of Clean Elections, but that they haven’t thought through the ramifications of it. Usually when I tell them the details and I’m opposed to it, they tend to agree with me … they say it sounds like a Communist system or whatever.” The negative reaction from many Republicans, as the allusion to Communism suggests, appears to originate from the belief of many of those respondents that politics, like business, reflects winners and losers as determined by a market mechanism. The underlying logic of this position is that if candidates are able to raise large sums in a privately funded system, it is merely a reflection that voters and interest groups endorse their position.

This, in turn, creates a feeling of responsibility as candidates become stewards of the trust that donors place in them. Ideological opposition to Clean Elections is therefore formed around what is seen as an unnecessary (p.113) intervention in a market. One Republican informant described what he viewed as an incongruence between Clean Elections and his own ideological perspective, saying, “It removes the economic market forces in a campaign. And I believe strongly in market forces, whether it’s in the economy, in education, or in politics.” Another Republican legislator who ran with traditional funding used almost the same language in describing how, in his view, the market of political contributions rewards good candidates while Clean Elections removes the accountability that traditional candidates feel toward their donors: “I have accountability. I go and raise money from people, I get $296 [the contribution limit] from you … I have some accountability to those people, much more than someone who receives public funds, because these people that have given to me, they’re going to expect that I not be a clown. So I would say that [Clean Elections] removes market forces that makes people do things with sincerity.”

This kind of argument for “market forces” was lost on many Democratic candidates. Like their Republican counterparts, Democrats discussed accountability as a factor in their decision, but they were more likely to express a preference for avoiding entanglements with private donors in order to be accountable to the broader electorate. One Democratic candidate, who won her first-ever campaign for the Arizona House, ran with a copartisan “teammate” (Arizona’s house districts are represented by two members each) who also accepted public funding. She noted that in contrast to traditional candidates, “We were responsible to the state of Arizona, the Citizens’ Clean Elections Commission, and the Secretary of State. They funded us, so the only people we owe is the government itself. That was a lot better than being indebted to a corporation.” When asked to summarize how Republicans viewed appropriate campaign finance regulations, another Democratic legislator expressed a frustration with the broader logic of their accountability argument. “[Republicans] say it’s more appropriate to get your support from corporations, but I can’t figure out the logic behind that. Why? Well, because ‘that’s the way politics should be.’ That’s their answer.”

The debate over the market mechanism extends beyond the relationship between donors and candidates, to a question of whether Arizona citizens should be compelled to pay into the Clean Elections coffers when they are assessed civil fines (see Chapter 1). Democratic candidates were much more likely to draw a distinction between “taxes” and “fines,” and were (p.114) therefore more comfortable with a system that is subsidized indirectly by citizens’ bad conduct as opposed to a uniform tax. However, some Democrats expressed frustration about trying to communicate this position to voters who objected to the mandatory subsidization of candidates whom they would not have supported otherwise. One Democratic candidate who lost a general election for the state house suggested an advertising campaign to raise voter awareness on the sources of Clean Elections funding: “I think that the Clean Elections Commission needs to have a public relations firm working on its behalf, not for those who are going to run for office but for the citizens who say that they don’t like Clean Elections. I say [to them], ‘You’re not really using public funds, it’s not coming from your tax base, so I’m not sure why you’re so concerned about it. This was extra money that was set aside from fines, so you may not even be participating in this. You may not have given a dollar to my campaign, so I don’t know why you’re so upset.’”

Republican informants were much more likely to see the distinction between “taxes” and “fines” as practically meaningless, and viewed Clean Elections as compelling citizens to perform an action that they would not have done otherwise. Some of them employed this logic during the campaign by making Clean Elections a campaign issue. One Republican challenger, running in a crowded primary field, chose to attack two candidates in his district for accepting public funding. In the process, he considered whether the difference between a tax and a fee was sufficiently important to clarify it for voters. Ultimately, he determined that it was not: “I personally took out the piece of mail against the two other candidates criticizing them for running with taxpayer funds. I think it was very effective. It was sent to Republican households, and for most Republicans, I think it strikes a chord for them. I remember when we were putting the piece together I wondered if it was accurate to say ‘taxpayer dollars’ because there’s more that goes into it than that … but we just said that ‘taxpayer dollars’ is a true statement, so it was the sort of message that people could quickly grasp.”

These calculations exemplify the process by which Republican candidates scrutinized Clean Election funding as it relates to market forces in politics. Ultimately, many concluded that a dollar moving from a citizen to the government, and then to the campaign coffers of a candidate unknown to the citizen who provided the money, is part of a system of “taxpayer-financed elections.” Many conservative Republicans came to reject (p.115) the imposition of an actor between the contributor and the candidate. For instance, one Republican member expressed frustration with a system that compelled people to pay for a program that they might not have otherwise chosen to support. Thus, it is the removal of choice that creates the objection that this respondent (and many other Republicans) had to the program: “[Democrats] say it’s voluntary, but it’s not voluntary. There is a surcharge on fines that you have to pay, and I believe in my heart that money is being extorted from our citizens. … I think it’s wrong to force people [to pay]. I just think it’s inappropriately funded, and yet I will say [Clean Elections] would go away if people were just donating money to it, because you wouldn’t get enough people to donate money.”

These responses depict a wide disparity between candidates of the two parties on the question of what makes up fairness in the election “marketplace.” While Democrats spoke more in terms of fairness and equality for all voters and candidates, Republicans were more likely to consider fairness for those whose money actually funded elections. In other words, the underlying partisan difference of opinion regarding Clean Elections is apparently driven by ideological considerations. A Democratic member of the state house alluded to this ideological divide in equating Clean Elections to the redistributive programs that Republicans traditionally favor limiting. When asked who opposes Clean Elections, he responded: “Republicans are against it. I say that broadly. Well, some Republicans. Anything that ends up in an expenditure, a very large and costly state program, it’s clear from the record that instead of funding anything at all, any entitlement, any program, education, healthcare, they much prefer to give tax credits to people that have plenty of money. So the people that don’t like any type of state meddling in any type of system, they don’t like [Clean Elections] at all.” Another Democratic candidate was more blunt: “Here’s their ideological opinion: ‘We shouldn’t be spending the taxpayer’s money.’ Baloney! That’s no ideology. I think their ideological purpose is a bunch of crap.”

A considerable number of Democratic respondents refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of Republicans’ ideological objection at all, seeing it as a convenient political excuse to mask ulterior motives. One Democratic senate candidate felt that Republicans are more likely to use Clean Elections funding to reach the legislature but then defend their seats with traditionally funded campaigns: “Some [Republican] legislators run with Clean Elections, but once they get connected to the lobbyists, now they’re (p.116) opposed to it. They use it to get in.” A Republican member who had run campaigns using both traditional contributions and Clean Elections subsidies acknowledged that there may be truth to this accusation, at least in his own case: “When I was elected to the senate, most of us [Republicans] who were elected ran Clean. So are we hypocrites, or are we taking advantage of the system? We’re grabbing the lowest fruit on the tree.”

However, it is worth noting that unlike his Democratic colleagues, the Republican informant just quoted did not see his behavior as indicative that ideology was an ersatz excuse for opting out of public funding. Rather, he viewed the trend as reflecting a very real tension that conservative candidates face: accepting public funding might be undesirable, but it is also difficult to raise private money as an unknown challenger. Thus, for many conservatives, taking public funding is a necessary evil. In the informant’s words, “I ran Clean Elections my first time because it was an easier route, not having any built-in foundation for fundraising. It seemed to make [strategic] sense.” Another (Democratic) legislator expounded: “For the seasoned politician, running Clean is probably a very effective way to do it without going after constituents over and over again. Their names are out, they’re incumbents, they’re more likely win, more likely to get coverage. For the new candidates, I think Clean Elections provides the foundation to become a politician.” Yet another legislator, this one a Republican opposed to Clean Elections, criticized the willingness of some Republicans to trade ideological opposition for strategic advantage: “It’s gone from a realm of this high-moral-ground philosophy, to strategy, and I don’t feel very good about that. But that’s the key. It’s a strategic move.” Reflecting on his strong aversion to public funding, the same informant described the tension he felt during his first election: “My district is almost two-to-one Republican. So [when I got in the race] of course I started talking to people. I had a lot of people telling me, ‘If you don’t run Clean Elections, you can’t win. The deck is stacked against you … you’ve got to run Clean Elections. We all hate it as Republicans, but you’ve got to do it. There’s no shame in it, there’s lots of Republicans doing it now.’ And I continued to say that I don’t want to run as a participating candidate … I really believe in doing your own fundraising as a traditional candidate.”

The informant just quoted opted in the end to run with private contributions, but for many other Republican candidates, the ability of public funding to enhance their financial position—and ultimately, their odds of winning—outweighs their ideological objections. In the words of a (p.117) Republican member of the Arizona Legislature, the end result for quite a few Republican candidates (and for non-incumbents in particular) is that “a lot of them just hold their noses and participate.”

Partisan Effects

The apparent ideology-driven difference in candidates’ orientation toward Clean Elections is not particularly surprising. Indeed, La Raja (2008) found that Clean Elections in Connecticut serves as a greater incentive for liberal citizens to enter politics than it does for conservatives. While a candidate’s personal political ideology is in many cases not directly observable, the interviews described above serve as a reminder that partisan affiliation can provide a reasonable proxy for ideology, facilitating relative comparisons. Assuming that Republicans are more conservative than Democrats on average, then Republican candidates should face higher average costs of running a publicly funded campaign than Democratic candidates because of stronger reservations stemming from personal ideology. Republican candidates should therefore view public funding with greater skepticism and demonstrate lower participation rates than Democratic candidates.

Figure 6.1 depicts the percentage of survey respondents in the partial and full funding states who agreed with the statement, “I believe that public funding improves democracy in my state.”1 As is evident in the figure, Democrats are much more likely in both system types than Republicans to view public funding favorably. In the partially funded states the partisan difference on this question was about forty points, with nearly 80 percent of Democratic respondents viewing public funding favorably. The partisan gap is even larger in the Clean Elections states, in which 37 percent of Republicans saw public funding as improving democracy compared with more than 83 percent of Democrats. The partisan differences are statistically significant in both types of funding environment.

Given this finding, it seems reasonable to expect corresponding differences in the rates of partisan participation. This is particularly true in the fully funded states, where subsidies are considerably larger and where candidates must bear meaningful costs of qualification. Indeed, previous research has shown such a difference in both Arizona and Maine (Werner and Mayer 2007; GAO 2010). (p.118)

Ideology and Partisan Participation

Figure 6.1. Percentage of candidates who agreed that public funding improves democracy

Figure 6.2 shows the percentage of Republican and Democratic general election state house candidates who accepted public funding in Arizona, Connecticut, and Maine from 2000 to 2008, and allows the analysis of partisan participation trends to be extended through 2008 with new data from Connecticut. In both Arizona and Maine, where comparison over time is possible, a similar trend is apparent: while participation levels for both parties are generally higher in 2008 than 2000, in every election a higher proportion of Democrats than Republicans chose to run with public funding. This is true even in 2004, when Republican participation peaked in both states before leveling off in Maine and falling somewhat in Arizona. In the 2008 Connecticut election the difference between Democratic and Republican participation was approximately six percentage points. An unfamiliarity with the programs is one possible explanation for lower overall participation rates early in their histories, but the enduring partisan gap is consistent with the theoretical cost differential that makes participation more difficult for some Republican candidates. (p.119)

Ideology and Partisan Participation

Figure 6.2. Percentage of state house candidates accepting public funding, by party.

Source: Data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics. http://www.followthemoney.org.

Ideology and Partisan Participation

Figure 6.3. Incumbents challenged, and challenged by publicly funded candidates, clean elections states

(p.120) What implications might differential partisan participation have for elections? Previous scholarship has commented on the relationship between ideology or party and Clean Elections participation, but there has been no systematic analysis of whether partisan affiliation affects how Clean Elections bears on the dynamics of incumbent-challenged elections. In the context of an incumbent-challenged election, Republican incumbents should be more likely than Democratic ones to face a publicly funded major-party challenger.

I examine incumbent-contested elections using election data from all three fully funded states, since (as noted previously) participation rates in the fully funded states yield groups of traditional and publicly funded candidates sufficiently large for statistical analysis. Moreover, the survey responses depicted in Table 6.1 suggest that ideological opposition is a more important factor in the fully funded states. Figure 6.3 therefore depicts the percentage of incumbents in each state who were challenged by major-party opponents, as well as by publicly funded opponents, during years for which public funding was available. In Connecticut, Republican and Democratic incumbents were challenged at about the same rate in 2008; just under 60 percent of incumbents of both parties faced major-party competition. However, while slightly more than 30 percent of Democrats faced a publicly funded opponent, nearly half of Republicans did. A similar trend is apparent in Arizona, where incumbents of both parties were challenged by at least one candidate of the opposite party about 70 percent of the time, but the percentage of Democrats and Republicans facing at least one publicly funded challenger was about 42 percent and 62 percent, respectively.

The same pattern is observed in Maine, where since 2000 Republicans have been much more likely than Democrats—by about 15 percentage points—to face a major-party challenge. However, it is worth noting that in contrast to Arizona and Connecticut, Republican incumbents were also challenged overall at higher rates in Maine. Still, the gap in overall challenges cannot wholly explain the apparent difference in the likelihood of facing a publicly funded challenger, and it seems safe to conclude that the summary statistics in Figure 6.3 support the theoretical framework advanced above.

Yet Figure 6.3 does not allow for conclusive inference. To that end, the results of separate logistic regression models predicting the likelihood of (p.121)

Table 6.2. Arizona, Connecticut, and Maine Incumbents Challenged by Publicly Funded Opponents: Logistic Regression Coefficients and Robust Standard Errors




Dummy: Incumbent Is Republican







Dummy: Incumbent’s First Defense of Seat







Margin over Top Major-Party Opponent in Last Election







Dummy: Same-Party Incumbent Running














McFadden’s R2




Log Likelihood




Note: Robust standard errors in parentheses, clustered by legislative district. Election cycle fixed effects.

Reelection-seeking incumbents are the unit of analysis; redistricting years are omitted.

The dependent variable in Connecticut and Maine is a dichotomous indicator of whether the incumbent was challenged by an opponent who accepted public funding. In Arizona it is a dichotomous indicator of whether the incumbent was challenged by at least one opponent who accepted public funding.

(*) p <.05.

an incumbent facing a publicly funded challenger in Arizona, Connecticut, and Maine (holding obvious potential confounding variables constant) are contained in Table 6.2. The models—which are described in greater detail in Appendix 3—include fixed effects for election cycle and utilize standard errors clustered by legislative district. Reelection-seeking incumbents in non-redistricted years serve as the unit of analysis for all models, and the dependent variable in each is a dichotomous indicator coded 1 if the incumbent faced a publicly funded major-party challenger and 0 otherwise. The independent variable of interest is an indicator coded 1 if the incumbent was a Republican; positive, significant values of this coefficient indicate that Republicans are more likely to face a publicly funded challenger, holding the other factors constant.

The model control variables—for the incumbent’s previous margin of victory, whether she was making her first attempt at reelection, and in the case of Arizona, whether she was running with a copartisan incumbent—do not prove to be significant predictors of facing a publicly funded (p.122) challenge in most cases. The dummy variable for a candidate’s first defense of her seat is not a significant predictor of a publicly funded challenge in any state, suggesting that freshmen are not more likely to face a publicly funded challenger. While the coefficient for lagged victory margin is negatively signed in all models, it achieves statistical significance only in Connecticut, where stronger incumbents appear to be less likely to face a publicly funded challenge. The additional control variable in the Arizona model, indicating whether the incumbent ran as part of a two-member team of copartisan incumbents, also fails to achieve statistical significance at conventional levels, signifying that publicly funded challengers are equally likely to run against one or two incumbents in a given two-member district. However, in all three states the coefficient for the Republican dummy variable is both positive and highly significant, indicating that Republican incumbents are more likely than their Democratic counterparts to face a publicly funded challenge. In Arizona, Republican incumbents are significantly more likely to face at least one challenger who accepted Clean Elections subsidies. This all adds up to the possibility of a different reality for Republican incumbents. At least one longtime Arizona incumbent believed this was the case: “Things are different now. Some very conservative Republicans [are feeling] a little bit of pressure after coming through a very close election when they should not have even had a race.”


Fiscally conservative candidates face two potential challenges with regard to running a publicly funded campaign. First, they must overcome their own personal aversion to the program. Second, they must answer to an electoral base of conservative voters. Most fiscally conservative candidates saw “market forces” at work in traditionally financed politics, with donations flowing to candidates with attributes that made them attractive to donors. Public funding, they argued, disrupted these forces, potentially allowing for candidates to run who would not otherwise have attracted much support. In contrast, liberal candidates tended to see public funding as encouraging fairness in the electoral process and reducing the potential for nefarious entanglements between donors and legislators. Simply stated, in having to “hold their nose” if they want to accept subsidies, many (p.123) conservative candidates face considerations with regard to public funding that their more liberal counterparts do not. It is therefore not surprising that Democrats are more likely to participate.

One practical result is that, when they seek reelection, Republican incumbents in Arizona, Connecticut, and Maine are significantly more likely to face a publicly funded challenger than their Democratic counterparts. Since Clean Elections appears to be achieving the goal of enhancing electoral competition in the elections where it is used (Mayer et al. 2006; Werner and Mayer 2007; Malhotra 2008), its net effect might be to provide a competitive advantage to Democratic challengers, reducing the average systemwide margins of Republicans (relative to Democrats) to a greater degree. This chapter might therefore give pause to advocates who see Clean Elections as an evenhanded reform, as it seems worthwhile to consider whether the practical effects of full funding may be uneven.

That said, this chapter offers no empirical support for the notion of systemic Republican disadvantage. Indeed, since all candidates are free to opt into or out of public funding as they see fit, and since this chapter offers some anecdotal evidence that quite a few conservatives still utilize public funding as a way to get elected (despite ideological objection), it is difficult to make a normative argument that public funding is inherently unfair to more conservative candidates. However, assuming that partisan affiliation serves as a useful proxy for ideology, conservative candidates appear to face higher nonmonetary costs of participation than their more liberal counterparts. While this conclusion is not particularly surprising, the candidate testimony offered in this chapter provides substantial insight into how personal ideology affects orientation to public funding, and how uneven costs may bear on candidate participation, subsequent campaign strategy, and election results.


(1.) I collapse “strongly agree” and “agree” into one category.