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How to Help Challengers Compete by Leveling the Political Playing Field
View related content: Elections
Better Parties, Better Government: A Realistic Program for Campaign Finance Reform
By Peter J. Wallison and Joel M. Gora
AEI Press, April 2009
Media inquiries: Véronique Rodman
202.862.4870 ([email protected])
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 27, 2009
All federal campaign finance reform legislation enacted since
1971–ostensibly intended to keep politicians honest and limit the influence of
contributors–has in reality protected incumbents by limiting the funds
available to challengers. Although the courts have struck down many of these
incumbent-protection measures, important ones still remain, particularly
restrictions on spending by political parties. The result has been sky-high
reelection rates for incumbents–up to 98 percent in recent years–despite
record-low public approval ratings for elected officials. What could be done to
reverse this trend? Lift the restrictions on campaign spending by political
parties. This would strengthen the parties, improve the ability of candidates to
challenge incumbents, and, ultimately, strengthen American democracy.
In Better Parties,
Better Government: A Realistic Program for Campaign Finance Reform (AEI
Press, 2009), Peter J. Wallison and Joel M. Gora guide readers through the
complex tangle of laws, rules, regulations, exceptions, exemptions, and safe
harbors that constitute our current campaign finance regime, and explain how to
reform the system with a single change: ending the restrictions on spending by
political parties. This single modification, they argue, will transform
elections, our politics, and indeed our government by allowing challengers to
compete more effectively with incumbents and by improving the choices available
The current campaign finance system, which requires candidates to raise their
own funds, has a range of adverse effects:
Past attempts to reform the campaign finance system have proved ineffective.
Wallison and Gora review four decades of campaign finance legislation and make
the following observations:
These misconceptions and ill-advised attempts at campaign finance reform have
resulted in laws that are convoluted, ineffective, and unconstitutional. The
easiest and most valuable reform would be to simply lift restrictions on
campaign spending by parties. A party-centered campaign finance system would not
only ameliorate the ills of the current system; it would allow parties to exert
more control over candidates and their platforms, resulting in elections with
more substantive programmatic content and congressional majorities with more
specific mandates. Stronger parties will lead to better candidates, and better
candidates will improve government and reinvigorate American democracy.
Peter J. Wallison, a former White House counsel, is the
Arthur F. Burns Fellow in Financial Policy Studies at the American Enterprise
Institute in Washington, DC.
Joel M. Gora is a professor at Brooklyn Law School and
former legal counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union. As an ACLU lawyer,
he was one of the attorneys who represented the plaintiffs in Buckley v. Valeo,
arguing that the requirements of the Federal Election Campaign Act violated the
rights protected by the First Amendment and heavily favored incumbents.
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