Campaign Finance Reform by 40w5eK8


									                                                                 process. They were making an investment. Many of
Campaign Finance Reform                                          them were hoping that their contribution would pay off in
                                                                 the form of a policy decision or a bill endorsement at
WHAT’S THE ISSUE?                                                some later date. Supporters of reform say soft money
                                                                 made large contributors indispensable to the political
It’s no secret that the cost of running for office is rising.    parties and reduced the power of the broader electorate.
The total price of the 2000 congressional and
presidential elections was almost $3 billion, up from $2.2       The parties used soft money to help pay for critical voter-
billion in 1996 and $1.8 billion in 1992. All indications are    registration campaigns, get-out-the-vote drives, and the
that the cost of the 2004 elections will far exceed the          all-important "issue ads". But donors didn't have to give
amount spent in 2000. TV ads, political consultants, and         their money to their party of choice to influence an
other major sources of campaign spending have driven             election. They could spend it themselves -- or give it to
up the cost of running for office, and there are no signs        an interest group to spend -- on "issue ads" of their own.
of a slowdown in the fast-rising need for campaign cash          Chances are, you've seen hundreds of these ads around
among candidates and parties.                                    election time. In competitive races, spending on issue
                                                                 ads can approach, or even exceed, spending by the
Critics of the current campaign finance system fear that         candidates themselves.
the growing amount of money pouring into elections is
having a corrupting influence on politics. The more              The University of Pennsylvania's Annenburg Public
money that is involved in running for office, critics say,       Policy Center and the University of Wisconsin-Madison
the more influence that donors – wealthy individuals,            have documented the dramatic rise in issue advocacy. In
companies, labor unions, interest groups – have over             response to these concerns, the McCain-Feingold bill
elected officials and public policy. These concerns gave         banned ads within 60 days of a general election that are
rise to several campaign finance bills, the most                 paid for by outside groups and identify a particular
prominent of which was the McCain-Feingold bill –                candidate. Additionally, the legislation required groups
named for its primary sponsors, Sens. John McCain (R-            spending more than $10,000 a year on TV ads to
Ariz.) and Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) – which would               disclose who paid for them.
reform the campaign finance system and seek to reduce
the influence of money in the electoral process.                 HOW THE INTEREST GROUPS SEE IT

The crux of the McCain-Feingold bill was a ban on soft           They say that politics makes strange bedfellows, and
money -- unlimited contributions to the national political       campaign finance reform is no exception. An odd
parties for "party-building" activities. The bill also placed    coalition of liberal groups, including the AFL-CIO and the
restrictions on outside groups airing so-called "issue           American Civil Liberties Union, and conservative groups,
ads" that tout or criticize a candidate's position on an         such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the
issue, but refrain from explicitly telling viewers to vote for   Christian Coalition, fought the provision in McCain-
or against that candidate.                                       Feingold prohibiting issue ads funded by outside groups
                                                                 in the final days of a campaign. They feel that the
After vigorous debate in the House and Senate,                   provision infringes on their rights to free speech and their
Congress passed the McCain-Feingold bill. President              ability to weigh in on elections.
Bush signed the bill into law in March 2002.
                                                                 Campaign finance reform groups including Common
HOW IT MAY AFFECT YOU                                            Cause, Democracy 21, Public Citizen, and the Brennan
                                                                 Center for Justice feel that the McCain-Feingold bill was
During the debate over McCain-Feingold, supporters               necessary to salvage a political system in which the
and opponents alike knew that a ban on soft money                concerns of voters have been usurped by the money
would have a significant impact on the campaign finance          and influence of powerful industries and interest groups.
system. After all, the Democratic and Republican parties         Although none of the reform groups saw McCain-
raised nearly half a billion dollars in soft money for the       Feingold as a perfect bill, they were united in their belief
2000 and 2002 elections. Because it could be given in            that the bill is a necessary start down the road of
unlimited amounts of $100,000, $250,000, or more, soft           campaign finance reform.
money allowed corporations, labor unions, and wealthy
individuals to wield tremendous influence over the
political process -- much more influence than the
average voter.

With their generous contributions, soft money donors
were doing more than supporting the democratic                   HOW IT ALL BEGAN
Congress in 1971 passed the Federal Election
Campaign Act (FECA), a consolidation of previous
reform efforts that limited the influence of wealthy
individuals and special interests on the outcome of
federal elections, regulated campaign spending, and
mandated public disclosure of campaign finances by
candidates and parties. Congress amended the FECA in
1974 in response to the Watergate scandal to set limits
on contributions by individuals, political parties and
political action committees (PACs). These amendments
also established an independent agency – the Federal
Election Commission (FEC) – to enforce the law,
facilitate disclosure, and administer the public funding
program of presidential campaigns. Congress made
further amendments to the FECA in 1976, following the
Supreme Court case of Buckley v. Valeo, and in 1979.

By most accounts, federal campaign finance laws have
not achieved their desired goal of limiting the influence of
well-funded special interests and deep-pocketed
individuals on elections. Political parties and outside
groups have taken advantage of loopholes in the law –
soft money being among the biggest of them – in ways
that reformers say have all but eviscerated the campaign
finance system of its ability to control the flow of money.


With most issues, a discussion of money would examine
where the special interests stand on a given issue, and
how they have used campaign contributions to bolster
support among elected officials for their position. In the
case of campaign finance reform, of course, money is
the issue. The Center prepared a report on the political
parties' reliance on soft money prior to arguments about
the McCain-Feingold law's constitutionality in the U.S.
Supreme Court.


The McCain-Feingold bill passed the Senate and the
House, and was signed into law by President Bush in
March 2002. Read about the McCain-Feingold debate in
our Tracking the Payback section.

Opponents of the bill challenged its constitutionality in
court. Arguments were first heard before a special
federal panel, which ruled some parts of the law
unconstitutional. The panel then stayed its own ruling
until the U.S. Supreme Court decided on the law. In
December 2003, the Supreme Court upheld all of the
law's major provisions.

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