McCain-Feingold and the
Market for Incumbent Protection
The decade of the 1990s was a time of surprises in congressional elections and in campaign finance legislation. The Democrats lost control of Congress in 1994 for the first time in forty years. One might have thought that they would have been aware of their vulnerability long before 1994 and responded with restrictions on campaign finance as a way to continue their dominance. Yet Congress did not act. The second surprise came eight years later when Congress passed and a Republican president signed the most restrictive campaign finance law since 1974. Because such restrictions are largely enacted for the advantage of those who write and enact them, we must ask two questions. Why did the Democrats fail to pass restrictions in the 1980s or early 1990s to prevent the loss of power in 1994? Why did a Congress with a Republican majority do so in 2004?
From 1974 to 2002, Congress passed only one major campaign finance bill. For most of that time Congress kept this issue on the back burner. Even when legislators returned to money and politics in the mid-1980s, they did not come close to enacting anything until 1992, when a bill went to President George H. W. Bush, who promptly vetoed it. In 1993 and 1994, when the Democrats held both Congress and the presidency but were dancing along the edge of an electoral cliff, no campaign finance legislation went to the president's desk.