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Public financing of campaigns

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Some states allow candidates to use public funds while campaigning for state offices. Public campaign funds are generally raised through donations made on tax returns to specific political parties, known as "add-ons" or "check-offs". Add-ons are donations made by choosing to increase an individual tax return by a small sum, usually between one and ten dollars, and check-offs are earmarks that can be placed on a small sum of money from an individual tax return. Candidates then have the option of using public funds, if they meet state requirements and agree to follow certain restrictions and spending limits, or raising campaign funds through private donations. A total of 24 states have or had some form of public funding, though the method of collecting and distributing the funds varies by state. Additionally, with the June 2011 U.S. Supreme Court Case of Arizona Freedom Enterprise v. Bennett, Arizona's public financing program and those like it have been ruled unconstitutional. That same month,Wisconsin's government moved to eliminate its public financing program.




Arizona participates in a "Clean Elections" program, whereby those candidates who chose to participate in the public financing option are subject to certain qualifications and spending limits, but are compensated with public funds for any amount in excess of the spending limit that an opponent raises in private contributions.[1] This policy is codified in Title 16 Chapter 6 of the Arizona state statutes governing campaign contributions and expenses:

"Whenever during a general election period a report has been

filed, or other information comes to the attention of the commission, indicating that the amount a nonparticipating candidate who is not unopposed has received in contributions during the election cycle to date less the amount of expenditures the nonparticipating candidate made through the end of the primary election period exceeds the original general election spending limit, including any previous adjustments, the commission shall immediately pay from the fund to the campaign account of any participating candidate qualified for the ballot and seeking the same office as the nonparticipating candidate an amount equal to any excess of the reported difference over the general election spending limit, as previously adjusted, less six per cent for a nonparticipating candidate’s fund-raising expenses. The general election spending limit for all such participating candidates shall be adjusted by increasing it by the amount that the commission is obligated to pay to a

participating candidate."[2]

However, this a "fund matching" or "triggering" program was taken to the U.S. Supreme Court on the grounds that it limits the free speech of private donors. The case of Arizona's Free Enterprise Club's Freedom Club PAC et al. v. Bennett, Secretary of State of Arizona, et al. was decided on June 27, 2011. In the 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that the law was unconstitutional.[3] The majority ruled that public "fund matching" programs ultimately discourage non-participating candidates who chose to raise private donations from raising or spending campaign funds, and thus discourage political debate. Several other states have public financing programs similar to Arizona's, and are now facing the issue of being shut down on this precedent.[4]

In 2010, the top 10 recipients of public campaign funds were:[5]

Candidate Amount Result
Republican Party Jan Brewer, Governor $1,768,577 Approveda
Democratic Party Terry Goddard, Governor $1,760,945 Defeatedd
Republican Party Ken Bennett, Secretary of State $458,008 Approveda
Republican Party John Huppenthal, Superintendent of Public Instruction $229,679 Approveda
Republican Party Brenda Burns, Arizona Corporation Commissioner $229,113 Approveda
Republican Party Gary Pierce, Arizona Corporation Commissioner $229,113 Approveda
Democratic Party David Bradley, Arizona Corporation Commissioner $228,711 Defeatedd
Republican Party Dean Martin, Governor $200,501 Defeatedd
Democratic Party David Lujan, Attorney General $183,311 Defeatedd
Republican Party Andrew Thomas, Attorney General $183,311 Defeatedd



Connecticut's public campaign financing program is funded through the Citizens' Election Program (CEP). This program provides grant money to candidates who raise a specified number of low-sum, "qualifying contributions" and who agree to abide by spending limits.[6] Originally, the CEP was designed similarly to Arizona's laws in that it had a "triggering" provision, granting equivalent funds to participating candidates whenever privately-funded candidates out-spent them. However, on July 13, 2010, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a district court ruling on the case of Green Party of Connecticut v. Garfield[7] stating that this grant-matching provision was unconstitutional on the grounds that it violated First Amendment rights to free speech. The court did also reverse a provision of the lower ruling that claimed that the CEP discriminated against minority parties.[8] On June 28, 2011, one day after Arizona's grant-matching public finance program was deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal of the Connecticut law, thus affirming the lower court's ruling as well as the idea that public campaign financing is not inherently unconstitutional.[9]

In 2010, the top 10 recipients of public funds were:[10]

Candidate Amount Result
Democratic Party Dannel Patrick Malloy, Governor $8,460,089 Approveda
Republican Party Michael Fedele, Governor $2,477,728 Defeatedd
Democratic Party Denise Merrill, Secretary of State $1,121,163 Approveda
Democratic Party Kevin Lembo, Comptroller $1,106,205 Approveda
Republican Party Jeff Wright, State Treasurer $749,950 Defeatedd
Democratic Party Denise Nappier, State Treasurer $749,490 Approveda
Republican Party Jerry Farrell, Secretary of State $744,900 Defeatedd
Democratic Party George Jepsen, Attorney General $740,381 Approveda
Democratic Party Gerry Garcia, Secretary of State $374,950 Defeatedd
Democratic Party Michale Jarjura, Comptroller $374,000 Defeatedd



In Florida, only the candidates running for the offices of governor, lieutenant governor, and member of the state cabinet are eligible to apply for public campaign funds. In order to qualify for public funds, candidates for governor or lieutenant governor must first raise $150,000 in private donations, and candidates for state cabinet must raise $100,000 in private donations. Florida exercises a donation matching program. Qualifying donations from private individuals are matched with public funds within certain limitations and spending caps.[11]

The 10 recipients of public campaign funds in 2010 were:[12]

Candidate Amount Result
Republican Party Bill McCollum, Governor $1,802,082 Defeatedd
Republican Party Jeff Atwater, Chief Financial Officer $702,445 Approveda
Republican Party Adam Putnam, Agricultural Commissioner $552,075 Approveda
Democratic Party Dan Gelber, Attorney General $513,568 Defeatedd
Democratic Party Dave Aronberg, Attorney General $426,975 Defeatedd
Democratic Party Lorrane Ausley, Chief Financial Officer $402,556 Defeatedd
Republican Party Pam Bondi, Attorney General $383,169 Approveda
Republican Party Holly Benson, Attorney General $328,172 Defeatedd
Republican Party Jeff Kottkamp, Attorney General $322,495 Defeatedd
Democratic Party Scott Maddox, Agricultural Commissioner $196,262 Defeatedd



Various state candidates may apply for public funds provided they first raise enough individual donations of $100 or less. Gubernatorial candidates must raise $100,000 in qualifying donations. Candidates for lieutenant governor must raise $50,000, those for state senate must raise $2,500, and those for state house must raise $1,500. Those that apply for public funds must agree to the state expenditure limits specific to each office, and may then be granted a percentage of public funds. The governor and lieutenant governor candidates may receive up to 10% of their expenditure limits in public funds, and candidates for state legislature may receive up to 15% of their expenditure limits in public funds.[13]

The 5 recipients of public campaign funds in 2010 were:[14]

Candidate Amount Result
Democratic Party Mike Golojuch, State Senator $5,015 Defeatedd
Democratic Party Clifton Tsuji, State Representative $2,613 Approveda
Democratic Party Fernie Nicolas, State Representative $1,780 Defeatedd
Republican Party Marlene Hapai, State Representative $1,500 Defeatedd
Republican Party John Carrol, Governor $200 Defeatedd



Idaho formerly had a system of providing public funds not to individual candidates but political parties. Individuals could, on their tax returns, choose to designate $1 on their state tax return to state political parties. This additional dollar did not raise an individual's taxes, but rather earmarked one dollar of tax revenue for distribution to the political party of the individual's choice. In the 2010 legislative session, members of the Idaho House of Representatives introduced House Bill 379, which proposed to repeal the "tax check-off" on the grounds that the revenue should go to state programs and that the state has no place supporting specific parties. The bill passed the House and the Idaho State Senate and was signed into law by the Governor of Idaho on February 16, 2010.[15]



Iowa's form of public financing does not direct funds to individual candidates, but rather political parties. On an individual's state tax return, any resident with at least $1.50 in taxes may fill out a "Political Checkoff" whereby they designate $1.50 to go to a political party of his or her choice. Joint tax returns of at least $3.00 may earmark two $1.50 denominations of their taxes to the political party or parties of their choice. [16]



Prior to the U.S. Supreme Court's Ruling on Freedom Enterprise Club v. Bennett, which deemed "grant-matching" or "triggering" forms of public campaign financing unconstitutional, Maine used method to distribute public funds to candidates who applied and qualified for them. Namely, a candidate who applied and qualified to participate in the grant-matching, public fund program received a stipend of funds to use towards their campaign up to the specified spending limit. However, if a non-participating candidate, or one choosing instead to raise private funds, raised more than the spending limit placed on participating candidates, the participating candidates were compensated to keep total funds raised by all equal. This provision of the Maine statutes was formally stricken by District Court Judge George Singal on July 21, 2011.[17]

The top 10 recipients of public campaign funds in 2010 were:[18]

Candidate Amount Result
Democratic Party Elizabeth Mitchell, Governor $1,573,340 Defeatedd
Democratic Party Patrick McGowan, Governor $599,998 Defeatedd
Republican Party Peter Mills, Governor $599,975 Defeatedd
Republican Party Michael L. Estes, State Senator $62,460 Defeatedd
Republican Party Michael Thibodeau, State Senator $59,161 Approveda
Republican Party Gerald Davis, State Senator $59,150 Defeatedd
Democratic Party Joseph Perry, State Senator $59,138 Defeatedd
Democratic Party Deborah Simpson, State Senator $59,006 Defeatedd
Republican Party Lois Snowe Mello, State Senator $58,870 Approveda
Democratic Party Patsy Crockett, State Senator $58,330 Defeatedd



The public funding program used in Maryland extends only to candidates running for the offices of governor or lieutenant governor. It is funded through tax add-ons as well as fines from public finance law infringements. The program provides qualified candidates who apply for the funds and agree to spending limits with grants to match the private contributions they raise. However, a major party candidate has not used this option since 1994.[19] Despite this fact, there have been efforts in the state legislature to extend the option of public campaign financing to state legislative candidates. Delegate John Cardin introduced House Bill 159 in January of 2011 to extend the public financing option to state legislative candidates. Although the bill is under consideration, it has been a tradition to introduce such a bill each session since its cause was taken up by former delegate John Adams Hurson, and has yet to make any progress in the general assembly.[20]



There are six state offices that qualify candidates to apply for public funds: governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary, treasurer and receiver general, and auditor. During the general election, those who applied and qualified for public funds may receive public grants to match every contribution made by an individual citizen of the state whose total contributions (if the individual made multiple contributions) are equal to or less than $250. Governor and lieutenant governor candidates who use public funds are subject to a general election spending limit of $750,000. The attorney general candidates are subject to a limit of $312,500, and the candidates for secretary, treasurer and receiver general, and auditor are subject to a limit of $187,500.[21]

The top 8 recipients of public funds in 2010 were:[22]

Candidate Amount Result
Independent Timothy Cahill, Governor $661,534 Defeatedd
Democratic Party Suzanne Bump, Auditor $215,809 Approveda
Republican Party Mary Z Connaughton, Auditor $209,457 Defeatedd
Democratic Party Stephen Murphy Treasurer $207,647 Defeatedd
Democratic Party Mike Lake Auditor $155,159 Defeatedd
Democratic Party Martha Coakley, Attorney General $72,170 Approveda
Republican Party William C Campbell Secretary of State $28,916 Defeatedd
Republican Party Charles D Baker, Governor $2,627 Defeatedd



Michigan provides the option of public financing for gubernatorial candidates. These candidates must first qualify by raising $75,000 in contributions from private individuals of $100 or less. Major party candidates who do this are eligible to receive $2 for every $1 of qualifying contributions in primary elections up to a spending limit of $990,000. In the general election, they are eligible to receive a flat grant of $1,125,000 and may raise up to $875,000 in private donations to meet their spending limit of $2,000,000.[23]

In 2010, the 5 recipients of public campaign funds were:[24]

Candidate Amount Result
Democratic Party Virg Bernero, Governor $1,370,362 Defeatedd
Republican Party Pete Hoekstra, Governor $487,289 Defeatedd
Republican Party Mike Bouchard, Governor $172,030 Defeatedd
Republican Party Mike Cox, Governor $78,373 Defeatedd
Republican Party Tom George, Governor $63,559 Defeatedd




New Jersey

New Mexico

North Carolina




Rhode Island





External Links


  1. National Conference of State Legislatures: "Public Financing of Campaigns"
  2. Arizona Revised Statutes Title 16 Chapter 6: "Campaign Contributions and Expenses §16-952 B"
  3. Arizona Free Enterprise Club v. Bennett: Text of the Decision
  4. New York Times: "Supreme Court Rules in Arizona Free Enterprise Club v. Bennett"
  5. Follow the Money: "Public Fund of Arizona 2010 Campaign Contributions"
  6. Connecticut State Statutes Chapter 157: "Citizens Election Program"
  7. Green Party of Connecticut v. Garfield was changed to Green Party of Connecticut v. Lenge by the time it got to the Supreme Court in recognition of Garfield's retirement
  8. Green Party of Conn. v. Garfield: "Ruling of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals"
  9. The Campaign Legal Center: "Supreme Court Declines to Hear Challenge to Connecticut Public Financing Program"
  10. Follow the Money: "Public Fund of Connecticut 2010 Campaign Contributions"
  11. Florida Department of State Division of Elections: "2010 Public Campaign Financing Handbook"
  12. Follow the Money: "Public Fund of Florida 2010 Campaign Contributions"
  13. State of Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission: "Partial Public Funding Guidebook"
  14. Follow the Money: "Public Fund of Hawaii 2010 Campaign Contributions"
  15. Idaho State Legislature: 2010 Session Bill History of H0379
  16. 2010 Iowa 1040A Tax Form Instructions
  17. Kennebec Journal: "Effort under way to fix Maine public campaign finance law"
  18. Follow the Money: "Public Fund of Maine 2010 Campaign Contributions"
  19. Common Cause: "Public Financing in the States"
  20. Maryland Reporter: "Public Financing of Election Campaigns Makes Another Try"
  21. Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance: "M.G.L. Chapter 55C: Limited Public Financing of Campaigns for Statewide Elective Office"
  22. [=19 Follow the Money: "Massachusetts 2010 Public Subsidy Campaign Contributions"]
  23. Brennan Center for Justice Report: "Campaign Finance in Michigan"
  24. Follow the Money: "Public Fund of Michigan 2010 Campaign Contributions"