Support for Election Campaign Fund Rises for Second Straight Year

Number of Taxpayers Aiding Public Financing Nearly Triple the Number of Private Donors

August 12, 1999

Madison - For the second straight year, the number of taxpayers designating $1 to the state’s election campaign fund increased from the previous year, according to records the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign obtained from the state Elections Board. The income tax check-off provides funding used for public grants to candidates who agree to limit campaign spending. 

Just over 329,000 -- or 8.7 percent -- of taxpayers checked the box on their 1998 tax form to support the public financing system. That is up from nearly 312,000 -- or 8.4 percent -- who did so on 1997 tax forms, which was an increase of more than 16,000 from the year before, when 8.1 percent designated $1 to the Wisconsin Election Campaign Fund. That ended a decade-long decline in participation.

WDC Executive Director Gail Shea called the increase in support for public financing a hopeful sign.

"It is very telling that support for public financing is growing at a time when other forms of participation in the political process are on the decline," Shea said, citing falling voter turnout and a dramatic increase in the number of uncontested races. "People are disgusted by the political arms race and they want spending limits. Public financing is the only legal way to accomplish that goal. More and more people are realizing that."

Contributing to the state’s public campaign fund also proved much more popular than privately donating to the candidates themselves, an analysis of state campaign finance records showed. An estimated 127,000 people made private political contributions to candidates for state office, nearly three times fewer than the 329,000 who supported the election campaign fund.

"It’s significant that three times as many citizens give to the campaign fund than give to the candidates directly. By supporting public financing, taxpayers can get spending limits in return. That’s a good investment in clean elections and a healthy democracy," Shea said.

Shea said that while the increase in support for the public financing system is encouraging, the system needs to be reformed so it works the way it was intended to work. The spending limits are out of date and the amount of money available for public grants is inadequate to provide candidates a strong incentive to limit spending, she said.

"The system worked until 1986 and can work again. The increase in check-off participation bodes well for the future," Shea said. "When the system is working well, it reduces the reliance on special interest money, makes elections more competitive and keeps campaign spending in check."