Other topics addressed in this forum:
The history of campaign fianance reform.
The power of political action committees (PACs) and if, and how, that power should be regulated.
The courts' role in campaign finance reform
Speaker Gingrich's comment that there is too little money in the system
What Senator Bill Bradley plans to do about campaign finance reform after leaving the Senate.
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A question from Jaime Dickson of Sydney, NSW, Australia What models exist in other countries which try to achieve the same objectives of the McCain-Feingold Bill?
Ellen Miller responds:
Public debate about campaign finance reform in the U.S. has proceeded in much the way debate on other pressing domestic issues (for example, health care, technology policy, adult vocational training) did until quite recently -- in deep ignorance of how other liberal democracies confront the issue.
A number of years ago, the Center for Responsive Politics in collaboration with the Center for A New Democracy, issued a report entitled THE WORLD OF CAMPAIGN FINANCE, (copies are available by e-mail at INFO@CRP.ORG) that provides basic information on the structure and operation of campaign financing for national elections in most of the rich liberal democracies of the world. The report is bare-bones and, as its Executive Summary indicates, raises, perhaps, as many questions as it answers. Even this cursory overview, however, suggests that most other countries assure a much more equitable system of campaign finance than does the United States.
They do so chiefly through direct public subsidies, typically administered through political parties, to the election process. By providing a "floor" on public spending for parties and their candidates, these other systems both recognize and begin to address the unhealthy link between private wealth and political competitiveness and the influence of private financing in a public election system. Direct public subsidy of the national election process is widely supplemented, in most other countries, with the provision of "in kind" assistance in the form of free media. Moreover, public subsidy of electoral activity is itself supplemented, in quite a few countries, with direct support to parties and their affiliated organizations between campaigns.
In federal elections in the United States, by contrast, partial public subsidies are provided only at the presidential level. Even there, "soft money" loopholes for political parties and "independent" expenditures, and the fact that the subsidies themselves are structured as a match for millions in private contributions, the system has substantially failed to eliminate the impact of private money on our public system. Those public subsidies that are provided, moreover, go directly to the presidential candidates themselves, rather than to the political parties. Free media is nowhere required.
Speaking of American politics in comparative terms, it is common, and correct enough, to characterize ours as a relatively candidate-centered system, dominated by private money, in which accountability runs from candidates to contributors rather than to the people or the party the candidate claims to represent. Looking at U.S. campaign finance regulation in comparative terms, it is easy to see just how those unhappy results are produced.
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