Money talks–and politicians listen. (Even the President of the United States, who is evidently running a very expensive hotel.) Campaign costs have gone from astronomical to utterly ridiculous; in 1996, some Senate candidates spent over ten million…
Money talks–and politicians listen. (Even the President of the United States, who is evidently running a very expensive hotel.) Campaign costs have gone from astronomical to utterly ridiculous; in 1996, some Senate candidates spent over ten million dollars to get elected. The presidential candidates spent a quarter of a billion. In Indiana, gubernatorial candidate Steve Goldsmith raised over eleven million dollars, and was defeated by Frank O’Bannon, who spent a "mere" seven million.
Good people have concluded that public service is not worth the indignity of the constant fundraising. The public is clearly fed up. No one familiar with the current system of campaign finance has a kind word for any of it.
So why doesn’t the ICLU endorse the "reforms" currently being proposed at the Indiana General Assembly? Because our legislature has trotted out more of the same tired formulas–caps on spending and contributions– that have utterly failed over the past twenty-five years, including a couple of provisions which have previously been held to violate the First Amendment.
Money is the way political speech gets heard. Contribution caps limit a candidate’s ability to get his message out, and they work a particular hardship on non-traditional, non-major party candidates. Because candidates can give any amount to their own campaigns while supporters are limited, we are in danger of limiting the electoral process to the rich. Spending caps are arguably worse: they stifle new voices and new messages. Spending caps are a direct restraint on political speech, and they work to the advantage of incumbents, who can make news just by calling a press conference or holding a "town meeting". Such "earned media" doesn’t count against the cap.
Worst of all, these measures don’t work. Federal campaign finance laws were passed in 1971 and 1974 setting limits on contributions from individuals. In 1972, there were 608 PACS; in 1992, there were 4,268. "Soft money" contributions to political parties have skyrocketed. Spending on congressional campaigns has nearly tripled. This is hardly a model Indiana should emulate.
The answer is not more government, more regulation, more infringement on our right to participate in the political process. The answer is to reduce the cost of political speech, so that more citizens can participate and the playing field can be more nearly even. Since television is such a significant campaign cost, Indiana should explore ways of making free time available to candidates. We might also give all ballot-eligible candidates a special franking privilege for the six weeks before elections.
As Max Frankel wrote recently in the New York Times, reformers are making the classic mistake of all prohibitionists; they are trying to dry up supply instead of demand for political money. But the more money candidates need, the more clever they become at skirting the law. And the more devious fundraising becomes, the greater the liklihood of hidden and improper payoffs.
Psst–Mr. Contributor. Want to sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom?