Campaign Reform Rhetoric and Reality

Article excerpt

The latest Clinton scandal, involving alleged illegal campaign contributions to the Democratic Party from the Riady family of Indonesia and Cuban drug lord Jorge Cabrera, has given new impetus to campaign finance reform.

The problem is that campaigns are expensive and this is not going to change anytime soon. But any meaningful reform must further restrict campaign contributions, and parties and candidates will have to replace those funds elsewhere.

Unfortunately, there really are only two ways of doing this. One option would force radio and TV stations to air free advertising for candidates. This does not seem fair and probably would not work very well. It certainly will be resisted strenuously by broadcasters.

The only other way of paying for campaigns with fewer private contributions would be to provide public financing. But again, this would not seem to be a viable option. For one thing, we already have more than 20 years experience with public financing for presidential elections. Yet vast sums of taxpayer money do not seem to have done much to improve the quality of campaigns. Nor does there seem to be much in the way of support for public financing among those whose taxes pay for it currently.

The Federal Election Commission reports that during the 1995-96 campaign cycle $260 million of taxpayer funds have already been disbursed to presidential candidates. Candidates may get up to $15.4 million for primary races even if, as in Bill Clinton's case, he has no opposition. Also, political parties get $12.4 million to pay for their conventions. And finally, those candidates who agree not to accept private campaign contributions get up to $61.8 million for the general election. …