Nowhere in our political system is power more institutionalized than in the pocketbooks of the political players. However, a little discussed, and even lesser questioned reality is that the sources from which the parties draw much of their funds are not their own, but from the taxpayers they are elected to represent.
Last year, in primary elections alone, the Republican and Democratic parties received nearly $400 million of state funds to administer their partisan primary elections across the country. This does not include the over $136 million in taxpayer funds given to each major party for their private conventions, the untold monies given to parties to hold their internal committee elections, the state administrative costs to conduct these elections, and the beneficial treatment they are given by the FEC to collect campaign funds in support of their party-backed candidates.
In all, the state-sponsorship of the red and blue teams amounts to well over a billion dollars a year.
Yet, over the last hundred years, the parties have repeatedly argued in the courtroom that they are private institutions. In fact, in 1996, 59.5 percent of Californians voted in favor of an open primary initiative, Proposition 198. The measure passed in all fifty-eight counties in California and was in place for the 1998 and 2000 primaries. The Supreme Court deemed it unconstitutional on grounds that it violated qualified political parties’ “private right of association.” (California Democratic Party v. Jones).
So, if they are private institutions, why do they get special privileges to fund their private elections and events with taxpayer dollars?
Whether we enjoy our fundamental right to vote in America depends on whether we have the ability to cast a “meaningful vote.” Evidenced by a 10 percent congressional approval rating and the 40 percent of Americans who now self-identify as independents, our ability to cast a “meaningful” vote has been diminished by the private organizations that have institutionalized our electoral system.
Political parties have the right to conduct elections, to endorse candidates, to elect local central committees, and to set policy agendas. But, they should not use our money to do it.