Political Parties and Spending Limits

By Baran, Jan Witold | Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, Fall 2000 | Go to article overview

Political Parties and Spending Limits


Baran, Jan Witold, Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy


The Supreme Court is ambivalent about political parties. At times, it is wary of them,(1) but on other occasions, the Court rhapsodizes about sacred rights of association and speech.(2) Each time a case regarding political parties comes before the Court, the parties cringe like battered children, uncertain whether they will be struck or embraced. This jurisprudential ambivalence reflects the public's own mixed sentiments. Party identification is still the leading cue sought by voters in deciding how to vote,(3) yet parties are objects of public suspicion and occasional scorn.(4)

I. THE NATURE AND FUNCTION OF CONTEMPORARY PARTIES

The confusion results in part from basic misunderstandings about what constitutes a political party, which is not an easy question to answer. Perspectives differ on the cohesiveness and collective power of parties. Will Rogers said he did not belong to an organized party because he was a Democrat.(5) On the other hand, Senator John McCain, in his 2000 campaign for the Republican nomination for president, said he was running against the party "establishment."(6) Both exaggerated. Contrary to Will Rogers's assertion, parties are not unorganized. But parties are not monolithic either, as suggested by Senator McCain.

Parties are unique in our society and our political system. These unincorporated associations include national, state, and local groups whose members -- through delegates -- meet only once every four years. In between these conventions, they function through thousands of volunteer committee members. Parties depend entirely on voluntary donations, which are spent mostly on public communications and on a relatively small staff. During the last presidential election cycle in 1995-96, the two major US parties raised and spent a total of approximately $625 million.(7) This represents only a portion of the estimated $4.2 billion spent overall by all participants at all levels.(8) Even this sum -- $2.1 billion per year -- seems a modest amount to spend on politics in this country. By comparison, the sum approximates the reported gross annual revenues of a single prominent media organization, The Washington Post Company.(9)

II. THE MODERN BOUNDS OF PARTY INFLUENCE

Unlike the Washington Post, political parties are not blessed with advertising revenues and family ownership that spans generations. Party activists, when they are not wearing funny hats at conventions, have personal and professional obligations outside the party. Party chairmanships are short lived: time-consuming and usually uncompensated at the state level, chairmanships are not particularly desirable. As a result, personnel changes constantly. For example, the most current campaign finance litigation involving a political party is Federal Election Commission v. Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Committee,(10) which started as an administrative proceeding in 1986.(11) In the fourteen years of this Dickensian litigation, there have been five chairmen of the Colorado Republican Party and six chairmen of the Republican National Committee.(12)

Upon reflection, it is remarkable that so many people are still active in political parties. Unlike past eras, parties do not control patronage, or actually conduct elections, or command predictable streams of income based on assessments of public employees. Indeed, they do not even offer much public exposure for ambitious party leaders, who must stand in the shadow of the party's real standard-bearers: its elected officials.

Candidate-centered politics has placed parties in the odd position of being dismissed by their own candidates.(13) In order to exist, a party must have candidates to articulate its messages. Candidates, however, do not always need a party. Party candidates do not even need to adopt a party's platform. Indeed, it is now almost commonplace for a presidential nominee to ignore his party's platform.(14) Even political coalitions are described by reference to candidates, rather than policy planks: "Reagan Democrats" or "Perotistas" or "the McCain Majority.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Political Parties and Spending Limits
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.