Which states subsidize election campaigns?

Maine, Arizona, and Connecticut have programs very similar to the one for presidential elections. All of them provide full funding to candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, and the state legislature. Some cities have also enacted partial public funding programs.40

These states went against the national trend by putting their programs into effect at a time when the presidential funding system was losing support from Congress, taxpayers, the general public, and candidates. Maine and Arizona passed their programs by popular vote in the 1990s and put them into effect in 2000. That year also marked the first time a major party's presidential nominee partly opted out of the federal program. The Connecticut legislature passed its law in 2005, one year after both major parties' presidential candidates partially opted out.

These programs also try to bring small donors into the system by requiring candidates to qualify for subsidies by raising a set amount of money in small donations from a set number of contributors. Unlike the federal system, these donations are very small—$5 in Maine and Arizona, $5 to $10 in Connecticut—and are not matched with government funds. Like the federal system, candidates who participate in the system agree to limit their spending to the amount of their public subsidy and to raise no private contributions.

The biggest difference between these state programs and the federal one is that all three states tried to level the playing field between candidates who received public funds and those who did not. Candidates participating in Arizona's program who found themselves outspent by privately funded opponents could even the odds by getting up to three times the amount of their public subsidy. There were similar provisions even in some of the partial funding programs. But in 2011, the Supreme Court struck down the Arizona provision. The justices ruled 5-4 that the Arizona law violated the First Amendment because it "diminishe[d] the effectiveness" of the privately funded candidates' campaigns.41

As events in 2015 showed, however, political support for public funding has had its ups and downs even in these three states. A Republican attempt to kill Arizona's program narrowly failed in the state senate. In Connecticut, it was the Democratic majority of the state legislature that proposed suspending that state's program as a budget-cutting measure. But Maine voters easily passed an initiative to increase funding for their state program.42

Other states have less extensive programs, ones that cover fewer candidates, provide only partial funding, or both. The Hawaii, Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Rhode Island programs, for example, cover all state offices, but provide only partial funding of campaigns. Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, and Vermont provide partial funding only for certain offices. Candidates who participate in all these programs must qualify by raising a certain amount of money in small donations and must agree to spending limits.43

One state, Wisconsin, went in the opposite direction from other public funding states. Its 1977 law, which was financed by a $1 income tax checkoff and provided subsidies up to 45 percent of the spending limit for covered offices, made it a reform leader, and the program worked well into the late 1980s. But the state's legislature undermined its usefulness by refusing to index public subsidies to inflation, and repealed it in 2011.44

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