Campaign Finance Reform

Themes

Campaign finance issues are complicated in the United States by the fact that the funding sources of the Republican and Democratic parties differ so sharply. As a result, any reforms intended to affect one kind of funding are likely to adversely and disproportionately affect one of the two parties. Furthermore, while most issues on which elected officials decide concern benefits for constituents. Campaign finance reform involves changing an institution that benefits those who make the legislative choices.Today this is an issue of popular debate, which there are many varying proposals and even more varying opinions.

The McCain-Feingold and Shays-Meehan bills are the best known and most visible of campaign reform proposals, attempting to restrict the use of money in politics. They argue that in order to restore public confidence, encourage political competition, and reduce the frenetic money chase, the system must be dramatically changed. The main provisions of the bill are a ban on soft money, closer monitoring of independent expenditures, a prohibition on bundling contributions, a raise in individual contribution limits from $1,000 to $2,000 if the other candidate does not abide by spending limits, a ban on use of postal franking privileges for mass mailings by members of Congress seeking re-election and, a ban on contributions from foreign nationals.

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A second school of thought is to eliminate contribution limits and increase disclosure. In contrast to the McCain-Feingold and Shays-Meehan bills, the proponents of this plan believe that campaigns are under-funded, and that increased spending would help enhance competition and allow candidates to get their messages out, that the funding system needs to be balanced by enhancing the role of individual contributors and that there should be full disclosure of all donations and assurance that they are recorded and made available publicly in a timely fashion.
A third theory on campaign finance reform is that of FCC imposed free or reduced-rate broadcast time for candidates. This theory argues that the largest single expense of campaigns is television advertising. Free or reduced rate broadcast time for candidates would eliminate much of the need for raising large amounts of campaign funds. Radio and television airwaves are public property and therefore broadcasters have a responsibility to provide programming in the public interest. Free or reduced-rate broadcast time fits neatly with the requirements that broadcasters serve the “public interest.” Because Congress won’t act, the Federal Communications Commission should.
The fact is that the majority of Americans feel that campaign finance reform is necessary. However, none of the proposed plans is a valid alternative to the system that is in use today. All of todays proposals have a common flaw, an unfair advantage to a single candidate. The McCain-Feingold and Shays-Meehan bills will affect candidates who traditionally rely on soft-money far more than those who traditionally get their money else where, the disclosure plan is unfair to those candidates hailing from poorer areas, and the FCC plan gives incumbents an unfair advantage due to the fact that they are already known. These are by no means the only problems existing in the proposed plans for campaign finance reform but it is one that is shared by them all. There should be no changes made to the current campaigning system until a new system can be devised that will allow for fair balanced competition between candidates based on issues rather than dollars.


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