Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Lifeblood of the Parties

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Lifeblood of the Parties

Article excerpt

"One Cheer for Soft Money" by Steven E. Schier, in The Washington Monthly (July-Aug. 2000), 1611 Connecticut Ave., NW., Washington, D.C. 20009.

Almost no one this election year has a good word to say about unregulated "soft money," that supposedly corrupting sort of moolah that corporations, unions, and individuals are allowed to pour into the coffers of political parties in unlimited amounts. State and local parties then are allowed to use the money only for "election-related activities," including "issue-advocacy" ads, but not (wink, wink) to advance the victory or defeat of individual candidates. Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) and other campaign finance reformers urge a complete ban on soft money. But Schier, a political scientist at Carleton College, argues that that would be going too far: Mend it, don't end it.

Yes, he agrees, unlimited soft-money contributions to parties should not be permitted, in order to avoid the appearance of corruption. But the attack on soft money is also an attack on political parties, he argues. And these crucial, already-weakened institutions need to be well funded if their electoral role is not to be further diminished.

Strong political parties perform "vital services for our democracy," Schier maintains. By simplifying and clarifying the voting choice, they encourage broad electoral participation, which is needed, he says, to make those elected more inclined to serve the common interest. …

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