Political Parties, Interest Groups, and Political Campaigns

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

return for each extra dollar spent compared to challenger spending ( Jacobson 1978, 1980, 1985, 1990). Given this advantage that extra spending by challengers generates, any attempt to restrict that ability through limits on contributions or public financing would actually decrease competition. A contrary view is provided by a study that applied four different models of public financing to congressional elections. Public financing would increase competitiveness in congressional elections, particularly if the public money were available at higher rather than lower funding levels ( Goidel and Gross 1996, 139). The lessons from two state programs provide support for both conceptions. Minnesota and Wisconsin have extensive experience with public financing, having introduced programs in 1976 and 1977 respectively. The Minnesota experience indicates that providing taxpayer dollars does assist challengers and would provide even more support if the amounts of public funding were increased ( Donnay and Ramsden 1995). Evidence from Wisconsin stipulates that public financing does not increase competition; instead, the overall strategic environment, and not just the question of fund-raising, influenced the decision about whether to run ( Mayer and Wood 1995). Frank Sorauf ( 1992, 57) provides an apt summary of the difficulties concerning public financing and competition, as well as campaign finance reform in general: "The complexity of the subject defeats all but the experts, and even they do not easily come to consensus judgments."


Conclusion

This chapter has concentrated on the values that guided campaign reform efforts, the laws that resulted, and the courts' interpretation of such laws. As campaign finance law evolved, it initially allowed the national parties to transfer funds to strengthen state and local party organizations. Today national candidates primarily view campaign finance provisions as a means by which they can indirectly spend more than the law prescribes.

Public perception of soft money abuses increased the pressure on Congress to enact meaningful campaign finance reform. Before major changes in the law can occur, several ongoing problems must be overcome. As Fred Wertheimer, former chair of Common Cause suggests, rather than a heated clash between Republican and Democratic ideology, what prevails in Washington, D.C., is an "incumbency party." Members of both parties are reluctant to part with the fund-raising benefits that the current system provides and to adopt a system whose electoral consequences would be vast and difficult to predict.

This chapter suggests that the relationship between money and politics is not merely a unilateral one in which PAC contributions corrupt politicians, but a bilateral relationship in which members of Congress utilize interest

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