Campaign Finance Reform 2000-2001 Essay, Research Paper
In the 2000-2001 election cycle, the issue of campaign finance reform was brought to the forefront by Senator John McCain (R-Az) as his key issue in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. His loss in the primary, however, only delayed a showdown on the matter within the Republican Party. With President Bush in office, McCain has introduced a new version of his reform legislation, co-sponsored by Senator Russ Feingold, a liberal Democrat from Wisconsin (Economist, Jan 2001), slated for debate on the Senate floor sometime in March by Trent Lott, Republican majority leader who, along with most of the Republican leadership, has resisted previous attempts to amend FEC regulations in the past (Pittsburg Post-Gazette 13 Feb, 2001).
The pressure to change the rules is mounting from discouraged voters, corporations, and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to curtail the outrageous expenditures by both parties. The guidelines set forth by the 1974 FEC amendments are said to be out-of-date with loopholes that allow unlimited amounts of unregulated soft money to enter the system. Common Cause estimated that $3 billion was spent in federal elections in this past go-around, up nearly $1 billion from 1996, with soft money totals nearly doubling from $256 million to $457 million (The Nation, 29 Jan 2001).
Chief among the concerns of pro-reformers are candidate-centered issue ads paid for by soft money, which are accused of misleading voters and the marriage of special interests and party candidates through donation of campaign funds. On the other side, those who favor the status quo argue that tighter rules on these funds constitute a clear violation of First Amendment rights. The following will elaborate on these issues and propose a hypothetical ?reform bill? that borrows on the points discussed in the McCain-Feingold bill and others. The purpose is to devise a solution, which is both constitutionally acceptable and effective in reducing the current abuses in campaign finance. The reality of the situation is that over-legislation of the multi-billion dollar ?industry? of campaigning is not going to change the system overnight, nor will it change the way people vote. But a cautious, common sense approach to reform could be an excellent way to begin to change how elections are conducted.
Those who advocate reform contend that the FECA laws are not eqiupped to deal with the nature of today?s powerhouse campaigns. ?This election cycle is the first in history of the current regulatory scheme where the money spent that was not supposed to be spent on elections exceeded the money that is permitted to be spent,? said Joshua E. Rosenkrantz, head of the Brennen Center for Justice at New York University Law School (National Journal 2 Dec, 2000. Larry Sabato, a University of Virgina political scientist, claims that the fundraising race between Democrats and Republicans is ?as fierce as ever.? Both refuse to be outspent (National Journal 14 Oct, 2000). According to Common Cause, a reform advocacy group, the amount of soft money donated to the national party committees has risen sevenfold from 1991-1992 to 1999-2000 (Atl Journal and Constitution 2 Feb, 2001). ?The Regents?, a group of more than 150 Republicans, have been recruited for contributions of $250,000 every two years, and a group of fifteen, composed of mostly lawyers and union interests, called the ?Chairman?s Circle? pledged $500,000 to Democrats in past elections (National Journal 14 Oct, 2000). Common Cause also published that the number of individual contributions above $500,000 has quintupled from fifteen in 1992 to 75 in 1999. These figures lend themselves to a frightening trend in campaign politics. Soft money contribution levels are on an unprecedented spike in recent elections, and they are only likely to rise in the future.
The intense competition between the major parties for bigger purses has led to a corporate backlash in this past election. The New York Times reported that at least 31 corporations quietly boycotted, for fear of political retribution, soft money spending to the major parties. The pro-business Committee for Economic Development has called the tactics of fundrasing by the major parties ?a shakedown operation.? Companies like Time Warner, GM, and Allied Signal have stopped giving to the campaign chests deciding that the money was not being well spent on phony issue ads (New York Times 4 Feb, 2000). The mounting disgust among corporate givers of the excesses in the current campaign finance system is a message that railroading by the parties is turning off support from the economic community.
Even big spending politicians are beginning to change their tune.
The ?hypothetical reform? discussed earlier is an amended version of the McCain bill, and it will probably look like the version that is handed down in the final vote on the measure. Its main point would include a ban on soft money from individuals, unions, who give heavily to the Democrats, and corporations, who are the backbone of financial support for the Republicans, and all other special interest organizations. In addition, limits on hard money would be adjusted upwardly for inflation, a proposition that was included in more moderate campaign finance bill introduced by Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Nb).
Those who oppose a restructuring of campaign finance laws claim that such regulations on soft money are an infringment on First Amendment Rights of free speech. Current law gives support to these claims. The key decision in the matter is Buckley v Valeo, in which the court amended FEC regulations controlling how campaign dollars can be spent by candidates, in this case, referring to self-spending of candidates own money. The court ruled that restricting how candidates spend their money is a violation of political free speech, and is, therefore unconstitutional. The court also stated, however, that the ways of collecting funds can be legislated.
Therefore, in the eyes of the law, money and speech are inextricably linked. It is for this reason that Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) and others contend that a ban on soft money contributions and/or strict legislation on those ?issue ads? as an infringment on constitutional liberties. It was the issue ad ?cease-fire? proposal 60 days before the election that killed the first draft of the McCain bill in 1998 with a filibuster (Baltimore Sun 16 Sept, 1999).
From this perspective, it might seem unjust that citizens, who have the means, cannot endorse their candidate and their political interest, with their own money.