Choices and Changes: Interest Groups in the Electoral Process

By Michael M. Franz | Go to book overview
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7 Tracking the Regulatory Context

In this chapter, I shift from a focus on how the ideological and partisan context structures interest group electoral goals (which in turn drive tactical choices) to a discussion of how the regulatory context structures the capacity to act in campaigns—which (also) affects tactical choices. At the outset, it makes sense to assume that political actors are concerned about whether innovative or untested tactics have criminal, civil, or political penalties to their employment. After all, “Federal campaign law is a freakish mess.”1

Indeed, between 1977 and 2003, more than 1,200 candidates, parties, and interest groups sought official legal counsel from the FEC, giving us insight into common questions and interpretations about the scope of campaign finance law. For example, in 1979, Rexnord, Inc., of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, asked the FEC if it could use corporate funds to pay for a newspaper advertisement that said simply, “Please Register to Vote” (AO 1979-48). The company considered such activity a generic public service. The FEC responded that the proposal as conceived could be funded only with regulated PAC funds. We learn a lot from the example. First, questions about regulated and unregulated political communications to the public date back further than we might assume (a point made in Chapter 2); second, the FEC was tough in its interpretation of the boundaries of regulated election activity.

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