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Can The Free Market Solve Campaign Finance Reform?

by Raul Carranza, published

 Maryna Pleshkun // Maryna Pleshkun //

There has been a lot of discussion about campaign finance reform. Many advocates suggest publicly financed elections, where each candidate gets access to an equal amount of taxpayer funds or additional donations are matched by a public coffer. All the while, donations are to be capped at certain thresholds.

Critics of these types of policies say that since money equals speech, limiting donations violates the First Amendment. However, there's another idea that has yet to be brought forward: the free market approach.

Such an approach would remove all limits on contributions while giving candidates an incentive to not focus on fundraising, especially while in office. It would not only provide much needed reform, but respect the First Amendment (though advocates of public financing argue that money does not equal speech).

One idea, proposed by The Show Me Daily, proposes a solution:

“Even more than campaign contributions, politicians respect votes. I propose that a group of voters simply pledge to cast their ballots based on how much money the candidates raise — and the lower the amount of contributions, the better.”

While this is an innovative solution, it's not without some problems. The primary concern opponents have is the model doesn't account for candidates that don't fund-raise well simply because they don't appeal to many voters. Still, if a proper incentive can be found, how would both systems fare when compared with one another?

States with no limits on contributions have a higher risk of corruption, but does that translate to actual corruption? And how do they compare to states with public campaign financing? A recent analysis compared Connecticut (a state with publicly funded elections) to Missouri (a state with no limits on campaign contributions).

In a study released by the University of Illinois, Missouri ranked 24th in the country in terms of Federal public corruption convictions per capita. Connecticut came in 30th. However, convictions can be a poor measurement of actual corruption due to the fact that it is rarely discovered. For a closer look,'s report card offers insight into each state's problem areas.


Missouri ranked 16th out of the 50 states and received an overall score of C-.

The state performed especially poorly in the areas of public access to information, political financing and state pension management where they received an F. The only areas they scored favorably were internal auditing and state budget processes, receiving an A and B+ respectively.

Missouri has also been making headlines. The state's house speaker resigned and immediately went to work at a lobbying firm and individual donors have made contributions as large as $750,000.


Connecticut fared significantly better coming in at 2nd. They received a B overall and did particularly well in public access to information, political financing and state pension management receiving A's in all three categories. They've been generally praised for their openness, but did catch 42 state employees fraudulently seeking federal disaster relief after hurricane Sandy.

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