Proportional Party Funding

“The morality of a [political] party must grow out of the conscience and the participation of the voters.”

– Eleanor Roosevelt, Autobiography

Public funding of political parties in proportion to voter support is a common method around the world to foster political equality, increase voter turnout, build responsive party organizations, and reduce the influence of private money in politics.

For more information on political finance worldwide see:

International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. Stockholm, Sweden.

Which political parties should be eligible to receive public funding in Oregon?

  • Most countries use some sort of threshold such as share of votes won, parliamentary representation, or number of candidates presented. However, all thresholds encourage new niche parties to form for the money, risk party system fragmentation, and waste public money.
  • Limiting funding only to the two mainstream political parties would give them an unfair advantage and may be unconstitutional.
  • Preference: fund the top-three vote-receiving political parties to encourage diversity without fostering party system fragmentation and waste.

How should votes be counted to allocate funds to parties in Oregon?

  • Other countries allocate funds equally to all eligible parties, by votes or seats won, by number of candidates fielded, or by share of expenses reimbursed.
  • Allocating funds by votes won balances the need to reward higher performing parties with ensuring a diversity of perspectives and encourages parties to mobilize voters.
  • Paying in proportion to a high-level candidate such as gubernatorial or presidential candidates would encourage spoilers.
  • Paying only for ballots returned by party members would encourage voters’ to choose a party and be fairly stable across elections, but would exclude non-affiliated voters.
  • Adding a separate line on ballots for voters to choose a party to receive their share of funds would include non-affiliated voters, but could be volatile across elections.
  • Preference: a hybrid system of paying for party membership and adding a separate line on ballots for non-affiliated voters.

Where should revenue come from for proportional party funding in Oregon?

  • Preference: Any general fund appropriation would probably be considered constitutional.

How much should parties receive per voter in Oregon?

  • A few dollars per vote should be sufficient to encourage statewide get-out-the-vote efforts by political parties and result in consistently higher turnout.
  • Preference: a fixed percentage of the median earnings for workers. The 2017 median earnings for workers in Oregon was $30,442. One ten-thousandth would be $3.04 per voter times about 2,000,000 voters equals around $6 million. This would also create a positive incentive by tying the revenue of the political parties to the shared prosperity of Oregonians.

Who should receive the funds?

  • Sending all the funds to the state parties would over-centralize the parties. This has been a problem in other countries.
  • Preference: pay half of the funds to the state parties and half to the county parties. If no organized county party exists, then the funds would be withheld to encourage formation of parties in all counties.

Which elections should party funds be distributed for in Oregon?

  • Funds could be appropriated for any election. When the Legislative Assembly refers a ballot measure to a special election, funding could be included to ensure adequate turnout.
  • Preference: regular biennial primary and general elections. The ratio for primary versus general and midterm versus presidential elections could be adjusted after some experience to boost turnout in elections with lower participation.

When should party funds be distributed in Oregon?

  • Lump-sum payments could be wasted. Public funds would be most efficiently and effectively spent for on-going staff and office space to build party organizations.
  • Preference: quarterly payments spanning the four-year period after each election. This would stabilize party revenue through election cycles. The funds per voter would be divided into sixteen payments until the next election of the same type. Each payment would include funds for the four previous elections. 

This legislative proposal is a work in progress. Your comments are welcome. Please submit your thoughts via my Contact page.