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Why is it that only 14 percent of Americans approve of Congress, but over 95 percent of incumbents are reelected? The answer is that incumbents have significant advantages over their challengers, particularly in the availability of campaign funds. One of the principal reasons is that political parties are limited in the funding they can provide to their candidates. In the 2008 elections, permissible party contributions were about 1 percent of the cost of elections to the House and Senate. This did not hurt incumbents, who have many sources of campaign funds and many ways to enhance their name recognition, but it severely limits the financial resources available to challengers. The media regularly report on the funds poured into campaigns by party committees but rarely note that virtually all this spending is limited to independent activities, uncoordinated with the candidates and often counterproductive. In Better Parties, Better Government, AEI’s Peter J. Wallison, former White House counsel to President Ronald Reagan, and Brooklyn Law School’s Joel M. Gora, former legal counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union, argue that only one significant change in our campaign finance laws-eliminating the spending restrictions on parties-will turn our elections into the competitive contests they should be in a democracy.



Speaker biographies

Michael Barone is a resident fellow at AEI, where he studies politics, American government, and campaigns and elections, as well as a political analyst and journalist. The principal coauthor of the biennial Almanac of American Politics (National Journal Group), he has written many books on American politics and history, including, most recently, Our First Revolution: The Remarkable British Upheaval That Inspired America’s Founding Fathers (Random House/Crown Forum, 2007). Mr. Barone is also a senior writer for U.S. News & World Report and a Fox News Channel contributor.

Ira Glasser was the former executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) from 1978 to 2001; he is now retired. He has appeared on numerous television and radio shows and spoken extensively in a wide range of public forums. His commentary, analysis, and advocacy have been published in a wide variety of popular and professional journals. Mr. Glasser appeared frequently as a debating partner of William F. Buckley Jr. on his show, Firing Line. He is the coauthor of Doing Good: The Limits of Benevolence (Pantheon Books, 1978), the author of Visions of Liberty: The Bill of Rights for All Americans (Arcade Publishing, 1991), and the recipient of a number of awards. In 2002, a new Racial Justice Fellows Program was established by the ACLU in his name. Mr. Glasser was a founding member of the board of directors of the Asian-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, serving for thirty years, and currently serves as president of the board of directors of the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group that seeks to reduce the harms associated with the war on drugs. Prior to his work at the ACLU, Mr. Glasser worked in various positions at the New York Civil Liberties Union from 1967 to 1978. He was associate editor and, from 1964 to 1967, the editor of Current magazine, a reprint monthly of public affairs published in New York.

Joel M. Gora has been a professor at Brooklyn Law School for thirty years, teaching courses in constitutional law, election law, and civil procedure and serving two separate terms as the law school’s associate dean for academic affairs. Mr. Gora has also been a long-time lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). During his ACLU career, he has worked on a number of landmark Supreme Court cases, including all of the Court’s significant campaign finance decisions, starting with Buckley v. Valeo in 1976, which he personally argued before the High Court. Mr. Gora is the author of several books dealing with constitutional law themes, including The Rights of Reporters (Avon Books, 1974), Due Process of Law (National Textbook Company, 1977), The Right to Protest (Southern Illinois University Press, 1991, coauthor), and a number of articles about the constitutional problems posed by campaign finance regulation and other First Amendment matters.

Peter J. Wallison holds the Arthur F. Burns Chair in Financial Policy Studies at AEI, where he codirects the Institute’s program on financial market deregulation. He previously practiced banking, corporate, and financial law at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in Washington, D.C., and New York. From June 1981 to January 1985, Mr. Wallison was general counsel of the U.S. Treasury Department, where he had a significant role in the development of the Reagan administration’s proposals for deregulation in the financial services industry. He also served as general counsel to the Depository Institutions Deregulation Committee and participated in the Treasury Department’s efforts to deal with the debt held by less-developed countries. During 1986 and 1987, Mr. Wallison was White House counsel to President Ronald Reagan. Between 1972 and 1976, Mr. Wallison served first as special assistant to Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller and, subsequently, as counsel to Mr. Rockefeller when he was vice president of the United States.

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