Magazine article The Christian Century

Campaign Alternative

Magazine article The Christian Century

Campaign Alternative

Article excerpt

AS THE CONGRESSIONAL DEBATE on campaign finances was being launched, Representative Thomas Davis (R., Va.) was already speculating on how a ban on so-called soft money, if enacted, could be circumvented. Clamping down on soft money--the unregulated contributions made by individuals and corporations to national and local political parties--is at the heart of the reform bill proposed by Senators John McCain (R., Ariz.) and Russell Feingold (D., Wis.). What is likely to happen with a ban on soft money, Representative Davis told the New York Times, is that political parties will set up unofficial parallel organizations to serve as conduits for the campaign funds.

Whether or not that scenario plays out, tightening campaign finance laws does seem a bit like squeezing a balloon: it creates a bulge somewhere else. The reforms of 1974, which placed limits on individual donations to candidates, sparked the creation of unregulated political action committees and then a surge in soft money donations.

Curbs on soft money are needed, but they cannot be expected by themselves to remove the excesses of campaign spending. A more comprehensive approach is required. Rather than focusing on regulating the system, reformers need to think about an alternative system.

An alternative is being tried in Vermont, Maine, Arizona and Massachusetts. Campaign reforms in those states offer state candidates the option of rejecting private funds in return for receiving designated amounts of public funds--"clean money." A "clean money" system can be designed with various limits on private contributions and total spending. …

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