Should Ron Paul Accept Federal Matching Funds ?
There have been a few articles over at Lew Rockwell’s blog on the question of whether Ron Paul should accept federal matching funds (i.e., tax dollars taken from people who might not necessarily support his campaign) in his run for the White House. Not surprisingly given the pro-Paul tilt of that website, they seem to think its all okey-dokey.
Walter Block argues that not only can Ron Paul take matching funds, he’s practically morally obligated to do it.
First, Block notes the traditional libertarian argument against benefiting from the state in this manner:
[T]he state receives all of its money from only three sources, all of which are entirely illegitimate: taxes, inflation and borrowing. Tax levies are blatant and outright theft. If you do not believe this, try not paying them and see what happens to you. Governmental printing up of money, whether directly through the printing press or indirectly via fractional reserve banking, is nothing less than counterfeiting, a form of fraud, which is equivalent to theft. And, as for borrowing, anyone who lends money to the state apparatus is complicit in its evil doings. When libertarianism supplants present institutional arrangements, these bonds will not be repaid.
Given that this is the case, accepting money from the government, it is argued, is indistinguishable from accepting stolen goods or merchandise. Perhaps this ought to be a crime, severely punished by some future libertarian Nuremberg court.
But wait; there are difficulties here. For the modern state is so involved in the lives of its citizens that it is the rare individual who does not accept some form of government largesse, whether in the form of money payments, services, or goods of one type or another.
For example, while not everyone goes to a public school or teaches there, it is the rare individual who does not: walk on statist sidewalks, drive on public roads, carry currency in his pocket, avail himself of the services of governmental libraries, museums, parks, stadiums, etc. Which of us has not entered the premises of the motor vehicle bureau, sued someone in court, posted a letter, attempted to attain a passport, or interacted with government in any of the thousand and one other ways it touches upon our lives? And this is to say nothing of seeking government permissions for commercial purposes, accepting social security payments, voting, taking an air flight (where we are “protected” by the security apparatus).
There a major problem with Block’s argument here in that there is a difference between going to the DMV to get a Driver’s License, which we’re all required to do, or using the Court system to sue someone who has damaged us, which is the only alternative typically available, and voluntarily making the decision to take money from the state for our own benefit. That, in it’s essence is what campaign matching funds are all about.
It’s not as if the Paul campaign, or any campaign for that matter doesn’t have an alternative; they can decide not to take the matching funds at all. Deciding to do so, though, leads to the implicit acceptance that the state has a role in financing election campaigns. And that is something that I would think someone who believes in liberty and the Constitution would be opposed to.
Block goes even further than that though, and argues that Congressman Paul would be morally justified, and may even be morally required, to take taxpayer dollars to help his campaign:
May anyone properly seize state wealth in this perspective? No. Only non statists may legitimately do so. Not Halliburton nor Bechtel; not Hillary nor Rudy. They are all supporters of statism. They are all members in good standing in the ruling class (see on this here and here). But Ron, and also the average guy in the street, may do so. They have no blood on their hands. Indeed, it is a positive mitzvah for people of this sort to relieve the government of its stolen property.
By taking it for themselves ? I don’t think so.
Block does go on to argue that it would not be wise for Paul to take matching funds, not the least because it would cause people to wonder just how much he actually believed in freedom. But that’s not the point. It’s not whether it’s wise or not, it’s whether it’s right or not.
Following up on Block’s piece, Murray Sabrin, who ran has a libertarian for Governor of New Jersey in 1997, argues that Paul should take matching funds for the same reason that he did:
Ron Paul has been in nearly a dozen debates and forums. Yet, there are tens of millions of American who do not know who he is. Only exposure in the MSM will change that. One way would be to obtain the federal matching funds to get his message out to the general public, not just GOP primary voters. Independent voters could play a major role in some of the early primaries. Whatever the rules are they cannot be very onerous or come with many strings attached.
The Ron Paul campaign should accept the matching funds with a clear conscience, because Dr. Paul would be playing by the rules of the game. After all, he accepts a taxpayer funded congressional salary and taxpayer funds to run his congressional offices. If Ron Paul supporters do not want him to obtain matching funds because they are “tainted,” they should also demand he depend on voluntary contributions to pay for all the expenses, including salaries, of his DC and Texas offices. Clearly, that would be an unrealistic application of libertarian principles.
The problem with the last part of Sabrin’s argument, of course, is that the salaries of Paul’s Congressional staff arise out of his Constitutional duties. Federal matching funds don’t. In essence, though, his argument boils down to the idea that taking the money will help the campaign, therefore the campaign should take the money. In other words, the ends justify the means.
For me the answer is simple. The one thing that distinguishes Ron Paul from the rest of the field is his commitment to certain principles. Accepting taxpayer dollars to fund his campaign would, quite clearly and not withstanding the twisted logic of Block and Sabrin, be a violation of those principles. Once that happens, what is there to distinguish him from the rest of the field ?
To my mind, there would be nothing and I would, quite honestly, have to wonder whether it would just be better to stay home on primary day.