Staff Editorial: System needs reform

NW Staff

With the presidential election just five days away, you might have looked at this page expecting to read The North Wind’s candidate endorsement. This year, however, The North Wind has chosen to focus on another election issue.

America has long been considered the land of the free, yet Americans perpetually have the scope of presidential candidates artificially narrowed by a faulty campaign financing system.

Public financing is funded by Americans who check a box on their tax return form that sends $3 of their taxes to a presidential fund controlled by the U.S. Treasury. This option removes no money from taxpayers’ pockets, but instead utilizes a small portion of the taxes already being paid. Despite this, only 7.3 percent of U.S. taxpayers checked the box in 2006, according to a USA TODAY article.

Some of this money is used to subsidize national conventions for qualified parties, while a large amount (this year’s share of public financing was in excess of $160 million) is split between general election candidates that qualify for and elect to use public financing. In order to be eligible for public financing, a candidate’s party must secure at least five percent of the vote in the last general election.

The Catch-22 is obvious. Unable to receive public financing until after the fact, third-party candidates will start at a disadvantage. With their limited resources being used to mobilize campaign workers and establish headquarters, candidates will be unable to compete in other areas.

During this election cycle, Republican nominee John McCain has spent $293 million, according to www.opensecrets.org (Democratic nominee Barack Obama chose to opt out of public financing). Four other candidates – Cynthia McKinney (Green), Chuck Baldwin (Constitution), Ralph Nader (Independent) and Bob Barr (Libertarian) – are listed on more than half of the ballots in the nation. In comparison, they have combined to spend just more than $4 million. The difference is clear.

It’s not that public financing is a bad idea, but the current system only perpetuates our static two-party system and forces Americans to trudge to the polls every four years to vote for the lesser of two evils.

The United States should make a concerted effort to restructure the current campaign finance system. The $3 check-box should be removed from the tax forms, and automatically transfer that money into the presidential fund. As well as imposing strict limits on fundraising, the government should use that larger fund to subsidize the campaigns of some third-party candidates.

America is a supposed beacon of democracy, and candidates for the nation’s highest office should receive a fair shake, regardless of their personal wealth, rich friends or political affiliation.