As I was petitioning for ballot access signatures, one of the questions I got most often was, "Will you be on the ballot for the June 5th primaries?" It is a reasonable question, and one I was happy to answer. I explained that the Libertarian Party of Alabama nominates its candidates at our annual convention. We selected our nominees months before the primaries. That answer always seemed to be satisfactory, but I chose to take it a step further by explaining that, unlike the Old Parties, we did not use tax-payer money to choose our candidates.
The more I thought about this issue, the more I realized that is an area of change that we must prioritize. I understand the need for the general election to be publicly funded, as it is a true government operation. But the primaries? Political parties are private organizations. As Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune explains in this 2016 article, both the Democrats and the Republicans are very quick to remind us that "They make their own rules for how they nominate candidates — how they select delegates to conventions and what those delegates may do." And that's all well and good. As a Libertarian, I strongly believe that private organizations should be permitted to do as they please, and to run themselves in a manner that they think most benefits their organization. The problem, though, is that the Democratic and Republican parties are tax-payer funded in many significant ways. For instance, both parties' presidential candidates can receive public funding of their campaigns. And up until President Obama signed a new law in 2014, national party conventions were funded on the tax-payers' dime.
Not only that, but the primaries themselves are largely tax-payer funded. Take a look at the preceding link. And note that it only takes into account costs for the 2016 Presidential Primaries. Those obviously aren't the only primary elections that exist. Those primary elections that took place on June 5th in Alabama? If you're an Alabama tax-payer, you paid for it.
Before primary elections became the preferred way to choose nominees, parties themselves nominated candidates through caucuses or conventions, and the parties were responsible for covering all expenditures. Primaries came about as a way to combat corruption wherein party bosses would choose candidates in smoke-filled rooms (though such a procedure is still possible, just more difficult). It was an effort to increase transparency and give the average American more of a say in who the candidates were. While I respect the goal, this really was no place for the government to step in. Again, we are dealing with private organizations.
Primary elections tend to be a good way to select candidates. I'm not suggesting we do away with them. I am questioning the rationale behind the public funding of those elections.
The Libertarian Party is hardly flush with cash, but we manage nominate candidates and run campaigns without being subsidized by the government. Why can't the Old Parties do the same? One argument is that it may result in parties being unable to nominate candidates if they have insufficient funds. But let's remember that donations to the campaigns of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in 2016 totaled around $1.8 billion. To say that the money is not there is ludicrous. Perhaps, though, it would have to be partially moved from the constant barrage of campaign commercials, and instead used for the political process itself.
And, even if it was a valid concern, how should that be the problem of tax-payers in Alabama or other states? If a private organization cannot run efficiently enough to continue operating, perhaps it is time to shut down. But instead of adopting this basic free market principle (one that many Republicans claim to support), we continue to subsidize the Old Parties to the tune of billions of dollars a year. For a nation that is over $20 trillion in debt, this is unjustifiable.
Additionally, it continues to help prop up a two-party system that is systematically failing America. No private organization, and certainly no political party, should be "too big to fail." Either find a way to nominate candidates without taking our money, or reevaluate whether you should exist.
I propose that Alabama no longer require its citizens to pay for political parties to choose their candidates. If the Libertarian Party can do it, I'm sure that the Democratic Party and Republican Party can find a way. And if they can't? That is really no one's problem but their own.
As always, I invite question, suggestions, and criticism. So please don't hesitate to get in contact with me.
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Email me: ElectMattShelby@gmail.com