New report debunks the “Clean Elections done it” bunk

Clean Elections poster

Andrew Prokop of Vox interviewed Michael G. Miller of Barnard college about his research on public campaign financing in the states that have enacted it. Conventional wisdom in Arizona’s elite circles holds that Arizona’s Clean Election system is largely to blame for the election of radical right wing legislators and laws such as SB1070. Miller tried to find the connection and couldn’t:

Andrew Prokop: Arizona’s legislature last made national news for adopting a tough anti-illegal immigration law in 2010. Would you say that the public financing system made that more likely to pass? Support for loosening immigration laws is more widespread among business interests, and under public financing, the support of business may be less important to candidates.

Michael G. Miller: I think that theory’s plausible, but I just don’t see it in the data, and I always follow the data. So what I have found in my work is that there’s no relationship between accepting public funding and taking more extreme positions. As I said, the narrative has always seemed plausible to me, and I actually was a little surprised when we found no relationship. But I just don’t see it in the data. You’ve got to bear in mind, Arizona’s still a really unique place politically, they have a strong strain of libertarianism running through the right side of their politics. It’s a very perceptible tinge of American conservatism. Barry Goldwater’s alive and well in his home state.

I think there’s a temptation to look for these explanations when we see extreme politics happening in a place, but I think it really is as simple as — if you look at the dynamics of the state, it is kinda a microcosm of America in many ways and you see same kinds of things happening there as you do in the United States Congress. And there’s no public funding in the United States Congress. So I think, we tend to go on these hunts for explanations, when it just ends up being the way things are due to political history, culture, or larger dynamics.

The reason there’s a temptation to look for those explanations is that it is always convenient, for the cocktail party class, to blame the working class for everything wrong, even when it is abundantly clear that rich people were always behind all of it:

Businessmen of the World, Unite!

The organizational counterattack of business in the 1970s was swift and sweeping — a domestic version of Shock and Awe. The number of corporations with public affairs offices in Washington grew from 100 in 1968 to over 500 in 1978. In 1971, only 175 firms had registered lobbyists in Washington, but by 1982, nearly 2,500 did. The number of corporate PACs increased from under 300 in 1976 to over 1,200 by the middle of 1980.[5] On every dimension of corporate political activity, the numbers reveal a dramatic, rapid mobilization of business resources in the mid-1970s.

What the numbers alone cannot show is something of potentially even greater significance: Employers learned how to work together to achieve shared political goals. As members of coalitions, firms could mobilize more proactively and on a much broader front. Corporate leaders became advocates not just for the narrow interests of their firms but also for the shared interests of business as a whole.

And they expanded their tentacles into states with the formation of ALEC in 1973. You built that, Business LeadersTM.

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