FOLLOW THE MONEY : Why Campaigns Should Be Publicly Financed

By Mandle, Jay | Commonweal, July 13, 2001 | Go to article overview

FOLLOW THE MONEY : Why Campaigns Should Be Publicly Financed


Mandle, Jay, Commonweal


What would happen if the United States funded the Defense Department through private contributions? Would those sections of the country that contribute more to defense be better protected than those that gave less? If the interstate highway system were paid for by the donations of private citizens, how likely is it that the nation's transportation system would serve the entire country and not just those who foot the bill?

The answers to such questions are obvious. Few would doubt that if these services were privately financed, their benefits would be biased toward the funders. The interests of the rest of the population would at best be an afterthought. Damaging as such a system would be, what then is to be said about a political system in which the wealthy provide the bulk of campaign financing? Certainly it would not be a stretch to say that a political system paid for by the affluent is one that will be disproportionately responsive to the well-off and less attentive to the needs of the rest of the population.

Funding for elections in a democracy should not depend on an economic elite. When the rich pay for electoral campaigns, the substance of politics is confined to the issues and policies that wealthy funders approve of. To be sure, the electorate gets to vote. But the choices presented to voters are, at best, those that are acceptable to the wealthy. At worst, of course, such a system is simply corrupt.

Almost all economically developed democracies have tried to reduce the importance of private money in elections. A study by the Center for a New Democracy and the Center for Responsive Politics showed that only the United States, Ireland, and Switzerland do not either provide public financing for candidates to the national legislature, or restrict the expenditures of such candidates. Further, the United States is alone in not providing free media time to office seekers. Presidential candidates in this country do have the option of funding their campaigns with public money (Albert Gore chose public funding, while George W. Bush relied exclusively on private donations). In addition, four states offer significant public financing for state offices and several cities do the same for local races. Nevertheless, the United States lags behind virtually all of the developed world in the effort to democratize elections.

The dominance of the rich is now so blatant that even politicians who benefit from it are ashamed. The McCain-Feingold Bill (Shays-Meehan in the House of Representatives) is a well-intentioned effort at reform. This legislation imposes a ban on "soft money" payments to national parties, and restricts "issue advocacy" by unions, corporations, and other interest groups. It is not hard to understand what motivates these limitations. Unregulated donations made for "party building" easily find their way into electoral campaigns. Similarly, issue-advocacy ads have become an only slightly disguised means of circumventing current campaign contribution limits.

There are elements of McCain-Feingold, however, that raise concerns. The first and most obvious is that, as passed by the Senate, the legislation doubles the permitted level of "hard money" contributions. Obviously this provision--perhaps necessary to secure Senate passage--is a concession that chips away at the principle that private money in elections should be curtailed. Two other aspects of the legislation are also worrisome. First, its passage is likely to result in increased, not decreased, public cynicism because, in the end, the legislation's restrictions will not do very much to rid the system of its pro-wealth bias. News reports have already appeared detailing how the major political parties plan to circumvent the law's intent. The prevailing view is that with the banning of soft money, political action committees (PACs) will once again serve as the conduit of choice for the wealthy. Finding other loopholes in the law has already begun.

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

FOLLOW THE MONEY : Why Campaigns Should Be Publicly Financed
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.