Soon those campaign signs will spring up all over town, but this year something will be different if you are a Chapel Hill taxpayer ― you will have paid for some of the signs, whether you wanted to or not! Under our publicly financed elections experiment, some candidates this year can ask for tax dollars once they qualify as a serious candidate.
One of the goals of the program is to broaden who participates. Another is to reduce the influence of “big money” in our campaigns. I’m not sure that $250 buys a lot of influence and even if special interests bundle contributions, aren’t candidates able to see it for what it is and reject the contribution? But most troubling is the provision that if a publicly financed candidate is outspent by one not participating, then the publicly financed candidate gets even more of our tax dollars in the form of "rescue funds."
This is troubling because to me because I see it as a violation of the First Amendment’s protection of political speech. Note that anyone can spend whatever he or she likes for or against a candidate as long as he or she is independent of the candidate. So what are we really restricting?
We shall see how the program gets evaluated after the election, but as you move around the community, remember that in these troubling economic times, your hard-earned money will finance candidates that you might not want to support and buy some of those signs. And yes, your political speech rights have been clearly diminished.