Other topics addressed in this forum:
The history of campaign fianance reform.
How campaign finance reform is handled in other countries.
The power of political action committees (PACs) and if, and how, that power should be regulated.
The courts' role in campaign finance reform
What Senator Bill Bradley plans to do about campaign finance reform after leaving the Senate.
Return to campaign finance reforum home page
A question from Chris Bates of Chestnut Hill, MA
Speaker Gingrich says there is too little money in the system. What is his point, and do you agree?
Ellen Miller responds:
Various commentators (from Newt Gingrich to David Broder) have been saying not only that there is too little money, but that the way to remedy the situation is to raise, or even eliminate, the $1,000 limit on individual contributions. They maintain that a $1,000 contribution, which has been devalued by inflation, causes candidates to spend too much time raising money and encourages more millionaire candidates to run for office. While candidates do spend too much time raising money, more millionaires are pouring huge sums into their own campaigns, and $1,000 in 1974 (when the limit was set) does equal about $300 today, we should be clear that even at the current $1,000 level, the financing of our politics is out of reach for all but the very few in our society who can afford to "pay to play." The great majority of Americans cannot afford to make $1,000 contributions. In fact, in 1994 (the latest year for which we have data) less than one-quarter of one percent of the American people made a campaign contribution of even $200. But, contributions of that size or larger accounted for well over half of all the money given by individuals.
But raising contribution limits would put the financing of our elections even more securely in the hands of wealthy economic interests and cause an even more dramatic skewing of public policy in favor of the big campaign contributors. There is nothing in any reform proposal worth the further tilting of the political table, in terms of who has clout in elections and lawmaking and who does not. If the limits would be changed, they should go down, not up, to put them within range of what the vast majority of Americans might be able to give.
The issue at hand, of course, is not really how much money is being spent, but where it comes from, who provides it (and who doesn't), and what obligations and conflicts of interest it entails.
Any campaign finance reform proposal should be evaluated by how well the new system would serve the cause of democracy. While we need to guard against clearly phony reforms, like raising the contribution limits to the point at which the only players that count are the super rich (as opposed to the merely rich), we also have to guard against other proposals that promise more than they can actually deliver. In order to know whether a proposed reform is really worthy of the name, we need to evaluate the extent to which it:
- enhances electoral competition and encourages qualified Americans of diverse backgrounds and points of view, regardless of their economic means, to seek public office;
- increases government accountability and restores public confidence in government by eliminating the conflicts of interest created by privately financing the campaigns of our public officials;
- guarantees fairer and more equal representation for all citizens, irrespective of their ability to make campaign contributions; and,
- frees elected public servants from the perpetual money chase so they can spend their time attending to the public's business rather than fundraising.
Click here for a forum menu.