Bills that could end taxpayer-financed elections in Arizona are fighting their way through the state legislature. They are encountering resistance from self-described small government conservatives who have no trouble with the irony of using big government policies to their own advantage. But taxpayer-financed elections violate basic conservative principles and it is unlikely that politicians whose careers depend on taxpayer money will be able to resist their government benefactor over the long run.
Genuine conservatives understand nothing is more dangerous to liberty than force. As government is force, nothing is more dangerous to liberty than government. Government is a necessary evil, however, because men and women are not angels. And, as such, government must be structured on the assumption that evil people will inevitably seek to control it. It should be limited to as few functions as possible. Its powers must be divided, checked and balanced. And, in particular, the electoral process must keep government under control.
Taxpayer-financed elections violate all of these principles. Subsidizing politicians with taxpayer money violates the basic principle of keeping government as small as possible. It is an obvious extravagance, not a necessity. Even worse, by doling out the resources that are needed to run for office, the government wields control over the electoral process. This undermines a crucial check by insulating elected officials from the people they represent and rendering them dependent on the government for their political success.
No one should seriously believe smaller government will result from the abandonment of these principles. Angels do not run bureaucracies, not even the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission. As George Washington reportedly said more than two centuries ago, “government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” It is time for conservatives to stop playing with fire.
Nick Dranias holds the Clarence J. and Katherine P. Duncan Chair for Constitutional Government and is Director of the Joseph and Dorothy Donnelly Moller Center for Constitutional Government at the Goldwater Institute.
Arizona Legislature: SCR1009
Arizona Legislature: SCR1043