Political Parties, Interest Groups, and Political Campaigns

By Ronald J. Hrebenar; Matthew J. Burbank et al. | Go to book overview

6
Campaign Finance

During election periods hardly a week goes by without allegations of a candidate's violating campaign finance laws, and heated denials by the accused. Election financing is an important topic, but it is often discussed in terms that are difficult for the average citizen to understand. Whether intended or not, the combination of large amounts of money and the barrage of technical terms such as "federal" and "nonfederal" accounts, as well as "independent expenditures," produces in many citizens a "MEGO effect"--my eyes glaze over. To minimize this effect, our focus will be on four issues. The first issue is the effect of campaign contributions on representative government. Are campaign costs rising so rapidly that election outcomes are skewed toward those who can afford generous campaign contributions? In short, does the role of money in campaigns make a mockery of representative government? The answer to that question depends on whether influence in the nation's Capitol is viewed as unilateral (from donor to decisionmaker only) or bilateral (a two-way flow of influence).

A second issue is the goals reformers have in designing and implementing campaign finance laws. What are these goals, and are they internally consistent with one another? How have the goals been modified or negated by decisions of the courts and the Federal Election Commission (FEC)?

A third issue is the importance of campaign finance law for candidates, parties, and interest groups. For candidates, the finance laws are of critical importance in determining who runs for public office, the campaign strategy that is used, and who gets elected. More recent innovations such as soft money and issue advocacy ads provide new opportunities for parties and interest groups, but a firestorm of criticism can arise if the public perceives them as mechanisms allowing improper access to decisionmakers.

The final issue is campaign finance reform, a subject about which much is said but little is done. Several broad approaches to reform and their potential consequences are explored. Disagreement on how to modify existing

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