• <div class="header-image" style="background-image: url(/live/image/gid/4/2611_Header_V6N2_web_4.rev.1518551584.jpg);">​</div><div class="header-background-color"/>

Is Campaign Finance Reform Actually Necessary?

July 21, 2014
Today there is mounting anxiety that corporations and certain elite individuals are corrupting politics by spending excessive amounts of money on electoral campaigns. People blame the Supreme Court’s decisions in Citizens United andMcCutcheon for deregulating the election campaign system. Congress has responded to this hostile climate by introducing Senate Joint Resolution 19 in order to reform the controversial electoral system.

Author: Sophia Dai, L’16

Today there is mounting anxiety that corporations and certain elite individuals are corrupting politics by spending excessive amounts of money on electoral campaigns. People blame the Supreme Court’s decisions in Citizens United andMcCutcheon for deregulating the election campaign system. Congress has responded to this hostile climate by introducing Senate Joint Resolution 19 in order to reform the controversial electoral system.

Historical attempts to regulate campaign financing were ineffectual and often created new problems.The aim of the 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) was to increase donor accountability by requiring more transparency and disclosure in federal campaigns. Congress increased the regulation in 1974 to cap campaign contributions. Proponents of the bill argued that the wealth of certain individuals would corrupt politicians and the political system as a whole.  As a way of circumventing these contribution caps, PACs (political action committees) became essential to national elections. Although PACs existed prior to FECA, they were primarily used by unions and were insignificant to elections. Since donors were no longer able to contribute unlimited amounts personally to campaigns, they began to donate substantially to PACs in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Donors, no longer subjected to individual caps or disclosure requirements, spent more than they had prior to the 1974 FECA Amendment. Despite the intentions to eliminate political corruption and excessive spending in federal campaigns, FECA essentially helped generate more spending by establishing powerful PACs.

In further efforts to reform campaign financing, Congress passed the 2002 McCain-Feingold Act, or the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA). This act sought to prohibit national party committees from raising and spending funds not subject to federal limits, and banned corporations and unincorporated entities from placing broadcast ads to name federal candidates. Proponents of BCRA argued this bill would decrease the amount of campaign spending, increase accountability by politicians, and would ultimately lead to more equalization between the electorate. To avoid the provisions in the Act which banned soft money, wealthy contributors gave huge amounts to independent organizations under §527 of the IRS code.  Before BCRA, parties and candidates had to take responsibility for the quality of political discourse. After BCRA, “shadow parties” (short-lived special interest groups that focused on particular issues or elections) became extremely influential.  Because more respectable organizations were unable to use soft-money funds to create ads, these unknown groups were able to run more attack ads that were substantially more damaging and less accountable. The consequence of this regulation decreased accountability and transparency rather than increased it.

Since 1974, total congressional campaign spending has increased from $77 million to $1.8 billion in 2010. Reform measures to decrease spending and corruption have not been successful. The $2,500 cap set on individual donations to individual campaigns pushed money into independent groups (PACs, 527s, and 501(c)4s). Wealthy individuals now funnel substantial money into Super PACs. These independent, expenditure-only committees are not subject to campaign limits and as they act as independent organizations, politicians are able to deny involvement with these groups. Today, there are about 1,090 Super PACs contributing actively in federal elections and as of July 2014, these groups reported total spending at $242,129,104. These groups only exist to circumvent the contribution cap, and they create less accountability in political campaigns. If Congress eliminated these contribution caps, it would eliminate the need for these organizations entirely.  According to the paper, “Do State Campaign Finance Reforms Reduce Public Corruption?” by scholars, Adriana Cordis and Jeff Milyo, reform efforts have little effect on reducing public corruption.  If the Democrats hope to actually eliminate “corrupt” politics, then campaign finance reform measures need to be repealed.

Senate Democrats have recently introduced a constitutional amendment in order to combat excessive spending in politics. SJ Res 19 would effectively amend the First Amendment to enable Congress to prohibit corporations from contributing money during federal electoral campaigns. This bill is aimed at restoring democracy to the American people who have lost their voice in politics to big business and the elite class. It essentially seeks to reverse the Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions, but it goes substantially further than reversing the Supreme Court—it alters our present concept of free speech and muzzles corporations. Take in the gravity of that statement. Aside from child pornography and cases in which speech is used to incite panic, free speech has never been infringed upon. The Bill of Rights has never been successfully amended and for good reason. The fundamental principles that bind our nation should not susceptible to frequent changes.

This amendment essentially attacks all corporate entities, including the Sierra Club, the NAACP, and every labor union. But while it denies corporate free speech, it expressly exempts media corporations such as MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News from this absolute restraint. So while the ACLU will no longer be able to contribute money during elections and exercise their speech, the NY Times can. This arbitrary selection by Congress of who suffers the restraint sets a dangerous precedent: a legislature that can pick and choose who has a right to speech is far too powerful. Any enemy of the current party in power could be silenced.

Harry Reid and Senate Democrats in the Senate Judiciary Committee frequently name Charles and David Koch as examples of vile tyrants of industry who have corrupted the electoral system with excessive money. But this comparison is attack is unjust in light of the 2012 electoral numbers. President Obama raised $715,677,692.

SJ Res 19 has little chance of passing the Senate, let alone receiving enough support to actually amend the Bill of Rights—and the Democrats know it. In order to pass a constitutional amendment in the Senate, 67 senators need to vote for it, and for the 113th Senate, that requires at least 12 GOP votes. As this amendment has about nil chance of receiving bipartisan support, the effort here is little more than political posturing to vilify Senate Republicans before the 2014 elections. There is too much money in American politics, but the solution does not lie in wasting tax dollars on introducing and pushing a bill that has no possibility of success.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), in a rather cheeky but undeniably clever move, proposed an alternate amendment to Senator Durbin’s amendment, which simply reiterated the First Amendment. Essentially, anyone who voted against his amendment would vote against one of the most fundamental provisions in the Constitution that has been ingrained in American culture for over 200 years. Although this move might be criticized as pointless and pert, the point he makes is not. By allowing Congress to restrict free speech now, even in this limited capacity, we inch away from an ideal that we will not be able to return to.  In order to preserve the freedoms that are so meaningful to us, we cannot move away from the past. Any advance beyond these original principles is not a move towards progress but a step away from it. Instead of abandoning freedom of speech so impulsively due to a momentary, contemporary problem, we must return to the First Amendment.  As President Coolidge said, “If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final.” Our right to freedom of speech is final and we cannot allow any backtrack.

Editor’s Note: Sophia Dai was recently wrote a summer dispatch on Penn Law’s website. Sophia’s dispatch is “is one in a series of firsthand accounts by Law School students about how their summer employment opportunities are preparing them for their legal careers. Dai is spending her summer clerking in the U.S. Senate’s Judiciary Committee.”  Read the dispatch here.

 

 

Student Blog Disclaimer
  • The views expressed on the Student Blog are the author’s opinions and don’t necessarily represent the Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative’s strategies, recommendations, or opinions.

PENN WHARTON PPI
RESOURCE SPOTLIGHT:

  • <h3>Federal Aviation Administration: Accident & Incident Data</h3><p><img width="100" height="100" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image80 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg 3x" data-max-w="550" data-max-h="550"/>The NTSB issues an accident report following each investigation. These reports are available online for reports issued since 1996, with older reports coming online soon. The reports listing is sortable by the event date, report date, city, and state.</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.faa.gov/data_research/accident_incident/" target="_blank">http://www.faa.gov/data_research/accident_incident/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>The World Bank Data (U.S.)</h3><p><img width="130" height="118" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/130/height/118/484_world-bank-logo.rev.1407788945.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image484 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/130/height/118/484_world-bank-logo.rev.1407788945.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/130/height/118/484_world-bank-logo.rev.1407788945.jpg 3x" data-max-w="1406" data-max-h="1275"/>The <strong>World Bank</strong> provides World Development Indicators, Surveys, and data on Finances and Climate Change.</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://data.worldbank.org/country/united-states" target="_blank">http://data.worldbank.org/country/united-states</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>National Bureau of Economic Research (Public Use Data Archive)</h3><p><img width="180" height="43" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/43/478_nber.rev.1407530465.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image478 lw_align_right" data-max-w="329" data-max-h="79"/>Founded in 1920, the <strong>National Bureau of Economic Research</strong> is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization dedicated to promoting a greater understanding of how the economy works. The NBER is committed to undertaking and disseminating unbiased economic research among public policymakers, business professionals, and the academic community.</p><p> Quick Link to <strong>Public Use Data Archive</strong>: <a href="http://www.nber.org/data/" target="_blank">http://www.nber.org/data/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>HUD State of the Cities Data Systems</h3><p><strong><img width="200" height="200" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image482 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg 3x" data-max-w="612" data-max-h="613"/>The SOCDS provides data for individual Metropolitan Areas, Central Cities, and Suburbs.</strong> It is a portal for non-national data made available through a number of outside institutions (e.g. Census, BLS, FBI and others).</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.huduser.org/portal/datasets/socds.html" target="_blank">http://www.huduser.org/portal/datasets/socds.html</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Congressional Budget Office</h3><p><img width="180" height="180" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/180/380_cbo-logo.rev.1406822035.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image380 lw_align_right" data-max-w="180" data-max-h="180"/>Since its founding in 1974, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has produced independent analyses of budgetary and economic issues to support the Congressional budget process.</p><p> The agency is strictly nonpartisan and conducts objective, impartial analysis, which is evident in each of the dozens of reports and hundreds of cost estimates that its economists and policy analysts produce each year. CBO does not make policy recommendations, and each report and cost estimate discloses the agency’s assumptions and methodologies. <strong>CBO provides budgetary and economic information in a variety of ways and at various points in the legislative process.</strong> Products include baseline budget projections and economic forecasts, analysis of the President’s budget, cost estimates, analysis of federal mandates, working papers, and more.</p><p> Quick link to Products page: <a href="http://www.cbo.gov/about/our-products" target="_blank">http://www.cbo.gov/about/our-products</a></p><p> Quick link to Topics: <a href="http://www.cbo.gov/topics" target="_blank">http://www.cbo.gov/topics</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>NOAA National Climatic Data Center</h3><p><img width="200" height="198" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image483 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg 3x" data-max-w="954" data-max-h="945"/>NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) is responsible for preserving, monitoring, assessing, and providing public access to the Nation’s treasure of <strong>climate and historical weather data and information</strong>.</p><p> Quick link to home page: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/</a></p><p> Quick link to NCDC’s climate and weather datasets, products, and various web pages and resources: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/data-access/quick-links" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/data-access/quick-links</a></p><p> Quick link to Text & Map Search: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cdo-web/" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cdo-web/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>National Center for Education Statistics</h3><p><strong><img width="400" height="80" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/400/height/80/479_nces.rev.1407787656.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image479 lw_align_right" data-max-w="400" data-max-h="80"/>The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations.</strong> NCES is located within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences. NCES has an extensive Statistical Standards Program that consults and advises on methodological and statistical aspects involved in the design, collection, and analysis of data collections in the Center. To learn more about the NCES, <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/about/" target="_blank">click here</a>.</p><p> Quick link to NCES Data Tools: <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/datatools/index.asp?DataToolSectionID=4" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/datatools/index.asp?DataToolSectionID=4</a></p><p> Quick link to Quick Tables and Figures: <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/quicktables/" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/quicktables/</a></p><p> Quick link to NCES Fast Facts (Note: The primary purpose of the Fast Facts website is to provide users with concise information on a range of educational issues, from early childhood to adult learning.): <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/#</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Internal Revenue Service: Tax Statistics</h3><p><img width="155" height="200" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/155/height/200/486_irs_logo.rev.1407789424.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image486 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/155/height/200/486_irs_logo.rev.1407789424.jpg 2x" data-max-w="463" data-max-h="596"/>Find statistics on business tax, individual tax, charitable and exempt organizations, IRS operations and budget, and income (SOI), as well as statistics by form, products, publications, papers, and other IRS data.</p><p> Quick link to <strong>Tax Statistics, where you will find a wide range of tables, articles, and data</strong> that describe and measure elements of the U.S. tax system: <a href="http://www.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Stats-2" target="_blank">http://www.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Stats-2</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED®)</h3><p><strong><img width="180" height="79" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/79/481_fred-logo.rev.1407788243.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image481 lw_align_right" data-max-w="222" data-max-h="97"/>An online database consisting of more than 72,000 economic data time series from 54 national, international, public, and private sources.</strong> FRED®, created and maintained by Research Department at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, goes far beyond simply providing data: It combines data with a powerful mix of tools that help the user understand, interact with, display, and disseminate the data.</p><p> Quick link to data page: <a href="http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/tags/series" target="_blank">http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/tags/series</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>USDA Nutrition Assistance Data</h3><p><img width="180" height="124" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image485 lw_align_right" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg 3x" data-max-w="1233" data-max-h="850"/>Data and research regarding the following <strong>USDA Nutrition Assistance</strong> programs are available through this site:</p><ul><li>Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) </li><li>Food Distribution Programs </li><li>School Meals </li><li>Women, Infants and Children </li></ul><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.fns.usda.gov/data-and-statistics" target="_blank">http://www.fns.usda.gov/data-and-statistics</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>MapStats</h3><p> A feature of FedStats, MapStats allows users to search for <strong>state, county, city, congressional district, or Federal judicial district data</strong> (demographic, economic, and geographic).</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.fedstats.gov/mapstats/" target="_blank">http://www.fedstats.gov/mapstats/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>The Penn World Table</h3><p> The Penn World Table provides purchasing power parity and national income accounts converted to international prices for 189 countries/territories for some or all of the years 1950-2010.</p><p><a href="https://pwt.sas.upenn.edu/php_site/pwt71/pwt71_form.php" target="_blank">Quick link.</a> </p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>