The choice isn’t between paying for campaigning and not paying for it.
Most private campaign spending is tax-exempt, paid for by all taxpayers.
Why pay for campaigns?
For one thing,
becausethe taxpayers already pay for most campaigning.
It’s easy to forget that a tax exemption isn’t like a manufacturer’s rebate. It doesn’t affect the price of the expenditure. It’s just an agreement among all taxpayers to share the expense of certain things that we need or value as a nation, rather than have the burden fall on the individual claiming the exemption.
By granting tax exemptions for campaign spending we allow spenders’ cost of campaigning to be spread out among all taxpayers because running for office or providing us with information we need to make informed political choices are public functions: they are necessary parts of governance.
This puts into perspective some objections to sole public funding, such as:
The choice isn’t between paying for campaigning and not paying for it. We already pay.
But if we just stopped granting exemptions with no system to replace it, we’d effectively restrict political involvement and even political speech to the wealthy.
If we're paying anyway, let's get our money's worth with control over total campaign spending, transparency, partisanship, fraud and electoral conduct!
Educating the public on an issue, or on civic involvement, isn't lobbying the public (grassroots lobbying) if it's nonpartisan, but falls into the 100% exempt non-FEC-regulated charitable-conduct category. Political spending that focuses primarily on issues and to a lesser extent on candidates or parties is also exempt. Grassroots lobbying itself can be done during elections, and is usually exempt, though it's regulated.
Spending that can only be defined as candidate- or party-oriented is only tax-exempt if donors' identities are disclosed. Even this isn't as high a bar as it used to be due to:
*The tax rate for donations received is 35% (except when used for overhead, which is 100% deductible).
Disclosure: The organization that created this website will be incorporating in June 2016 and applying for a 501(c)(4) exemption. But we are a limited-duration corporation. We're also 100% volunteer. And we own no assets but this website, which is free to the public.
FEC rules, at www.fec.gov, and IRS rules and figures, at www.irs.gov, compiled by the Library of Congress (www.loc.gov) show these trends. Such companies as the Sunlight Foundation (www.sunlightfoundation.org), Open Secrets (www.opensecrets.org), and The Center for Responsive Politics (www.centerforresponsivepolitics.org) also show these trends. [This does not constitute endorsement of these corporations.]