New Directions for Campaign Finance Reform
April 1, 1997
Apr 1, 1997
28 Min read time
New Directions for Campaign Finance Reform
There are only two important things in politics. The first is money and I can’t remember the second. —Mark Hanna
On November 7, 1995, more than a thousand volunteers in Maine collected 65,000 signatures to put the Maine Clean Elections Act on the 1996 ballot. It was the country’s most sweeping campaign finance reform proposal, and promised to blunt the domination of special interest money in Maine politics by establishing a system of full public financing of state elections. One year later, by a 56-44 margin, Maine voters enacted this fundamental change. In crisp and decisive terms, they stated that private money would no longer dominate their political life.
The situation in other states, however, remains at least as bad as it was in Maine, and at the federal level matters are much worse. The American people realize that money is eating away at the core of our democracy, and voters seem willing to take decisive action to stop it. But they need a model for reform. Maine’s full public financing solution, the Clean Money Option, provides that model—so we will argue. To appreciate the good sense in the Maine solution, we need first to understand the problem, and then to appreciate the limits of the alternative solutions.
Americans can no longer pick up a newspaper without being confronted with the latest campaign finance excesses—stories about use of the White House and trade missions for fundraising purposes, or invitations of special interest lobbyists into legislative drafting sessions on Capitol Hill, or Republican legislators vacationing with the largest donors to their Party. These stories describe a system gone awry, in which private money is increasingly driving public policy on an ever-wider array of issues—taxation, environmental regulation, and health care policy, just to name the most obvious. And it is all perfectly legal . . . or at least, as the President says, 90 percent of it is. The remaining ten percent—contributions to the Democratic National Committee from well-heeled Asian donors, for example—may be of questionable legality, and may create titillating headlines, but it is largely a sideshow (an ugly, xenophobic sideshow). The real scandal is the legal stuff.
The precise nature of the scandal was obscured for years by contributors’ ingenuity and reformers’ lack of information. According to the conventional story, reform efforts in the early 1970s had unwittingly encouraged the formation of political actions committees (PACs) that, by coordinating individual contributions, multiplied their effects and drove up the costs of campaigning. The big problem was to do something about the PACs.
Skeptical about this conventional wisdom, the Center for Responsive Politics pioneered a system for documenting the thousands of individual contributions to congressional campaigns. As a result of these efforts, we now have a far more accurate picture of the flows of money. The basic elements of this picture are crystal clear: the total amount of money in the system is exploding; the vast majority of this money comes from individuals, not PACs; most of the individual and PAC contributions come from wealthy special interests with a direct stake in government decisions; businesses and corporations are increasingly good at targeting those contributions at members of committees who deal with their issues (corporations dealing with health care issues target their dollars to members of the health care committees, those dealing with banking issues target their contributions to members of the banking committees); and these political investments have sizable payoffs, in electoral victories and favorable legislative outcomes.
Consider some basic numbers.
A record $2.2 billion (estimated) was spent in American politics in 1996. About $742.6 million was spent by candidates for Congress—not including the money that parties and other organizations spent on behalf of candidates. (Common Cause estimates that these “independent expenditures,” and issue advocacy ads, reached $100 million.) Presidential spending for the 1996 election—including the $177 million spent on the primaries—reached $1 billion for the first time.
Overall fundraising for the Democratic and Republican parties through their federal and non-federal accounts reached $866.1 million through the end of November. The GOP outspent the Democrats $550 million to $315.9 million. The defensive claims from the Democrats about their need to keep up with the Joneses seem somewhat true, but it is hard to feel sorry for the party who also claims to champion the cause of the working class—they did keep up with the GOP in “soft money” contributions ($149.6 million for Republicans and a cool $117.3 million for the Dems). Soft money refers to the tens or hundreds of thousand dollar gifts to parties for so-called party-building activities which invariably come from corporate interests, not working families.
As to the sources of the money: most political contributions for federal, state, and local election campaigns come from a small number of wealthy individuals and powerful organizations that are subject to government regulation and taxation or have some other stake in government policy making. For example in the 1996 election cycle less than one-fourth of 1 percent of the American people gave contributions of $200 or more to a federal candidate. Only four percent make any contribution of any size to any candidate for office—federal, state, or local. On average, only 20 percent of the money came from individuals giving contributions less than $200 per candidate. That means an astonishing 80 percent of political money comes from the tiny group of donors who give $200 or more. (The residents of one New York City zip code give more to congressional candidates than the residents of each of 24 states.)
Funds are intelligently targeted: According to the Center for Responsive Politics’s Cashing In Report, the timber industry convinced Congress to allow logging of dead and dying trees on public lands, over the objections of environmental groups. The 54 Senators who supported the timber industry received an average of $20,000; the 42 against the idea received an average of $2,500. In the House, the 211 members who supported the industry received $2,500 while the 209 who opposed them received an average of only $542.
The military industry also wrote big checks and got big returns. The 213 members of Congress who voted to spend an additional $493 million on Northrop Grumman’s B-2 stealth bombers received an average of $2,100 from the contractor; the 210 who voted against only got $100 on average.
With the devolution of important issues to the states, like the implementation of the new welfare laws, maybe welfare moms should start a political action committee or bundle their dwindling benefits checks to the chairs of the human resource committees in our state capitals. But how many corporate executives need to choose between making a political contribution and buying food for their children?
What does this money buy? The Nation has catalogued the “return on investment” that corporate America received in direct corporate welfare from the Commerce Department. Between 1992 and 1994, AT&T contributed $90,000 to the Democrats and received $34.2 million in Commerce Department grants. Boeing gave $127,000 and received $50.9 million from Commerce. General Electric gave $153,000 and got $14.8 million; Shell Petroleum gave $65,000 and got $12 million; and Texaco gave $22,000 and got $8.1 million. Nice work if you can get it.
And the money didn’t just determine policy debates; it decided races. According to the latest data, in 1996 congressional campaigns the biggest spender won House races 90 percent of the time and Senate races 80% of the time. The Center for Responsive Politics has also determined that in both House and Senate races with no incumbent, candidates who spent the most beat their opponents by a two-to-one ratio. Races in 1996 were not financially competitive—in nearly 40 percent of House races, the winner outspent the loser by a factor of ten-to-one or more. No candidate who was outspent more than five-to-one was victorious.
The trends are the same in the states. Maine politics, for example, has also been dominated by a few wealthy donors and interest groups. Comparable figures—an estimated one half of one percent of all voters giving $50 or more to a state candidate—describe the same unlevel playing field for citizens in Maine as there is in Washington. Mainers were persuaded to support reform by studies showing an explosion in the cost to run for governor (an increase of 1609 percent over 20 years), and targeted special-interest giving to influence policy decisions. When the trucking industry successfully watered down the “Tired Truckers” bill despite public opinion squarely behind strict enforcement, they did so in part with political contributions. When Blue Cross/Blue Shield sought a change in their tax status from not-for-profit to for-profit, a move which could have netted them millions, a study showing their contributions to the Banking and Insurance Committee (released at a ‘Blues’-sponsored fund raiser for the committee chair) crystallized public opinion and editorial opposition to the plan, eventually leading to its demise. When the timber industry’s favorite incumbent legislator was in trouble in a 1994 re-election fight, paper companies poured $5,000 into the campaign for a last-minute radio spot that proved critical for his six-vote victory. Public outrage about these events was successfully harnessed for a pro-reform effort, culminating in an Election Day victory for reformers.
So we have a problem: simply put, there is too much private money in our political system. Despite the best efforts of a few conservative scholars and columnists, this point is no longer a topic of serious debate. The large issue is now: What role should private money play, and how can we correct the current imbalance? The field is now crowded with competing answers to these questions. To explain the advantages of the Maine strategy over the leading alternatives, we will start by setting out some basic principles that should guide reform efforts, and then describe the deficiencies of the alternatives in light of these principles.
Broad principles should inform the proposals for campaign finance reform. We suggest five:
• Competition: Reform must enhance electoral competition. It must encourage qualified Americans of diverse backgrounds and points of view, regardless of their economic means, to seek public office.
• Accountability: Reform must increase government accountability and restore public confidence in government. It must eliminate the conflicts of interest created by privately financing the campaigns of our public officials.
• Fairness: Reform must guarantee fairer and more equal representation for all citizens. The views of all Americans must be taken into account in the public policy making process irrespective of the ability to make campaign contributions.
• Responsibility: Reform must stop the perpetual money chase. Elected officials should be attending to the people’s business—meeting with constituents, attending important meetings, researching current policy options—not lounging with large donors.
• Deliberation: Reform must begin the process of reinvigorating public participation in our democracy. It must reinstate public elections and legislative debate as forums for deliberation about how best to address the most pressing issues of the day.
While it would be impossible to develop an exhaustive list of proposals to address the money in politics problem, six models dominate public discussion: lowering contribution limits; raising the contribution limits and enhancing disclosure; making lots of modest changes around the edges (like the McCain-Feingold legislation in the Senate); instituting partial public financing or matching funds; challenging the Supreme Court’s 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision, which substantially limited the measures that government can use to regulate campaign finance; and full public financing.
Lower contribution limits. A first strategy of reform is to cut into the flow of money as it passes from contributors to candidates—to limit the size of the checks written to candidates for elective office, while not regulating the overall size of spending. Pursuing this strategy, voters in several states have passed proposals to limit contributions to $100 (or some other level). But these proposals have run into legal trouble. Although the Supreme Court has permitted limits on contributions to candidate campaigns—both because such contributions threaten corruption and because potential contributors remain free to spend their money to influence politics without giving it to candidates—the Court confined its concerns to “large” contributions. And lower courts have recently struck down $100 limits in DC, Missouri, and Oregon as too stringent and therefore incompatible with First Amendment speech rights.
Because of these legal troubles, we do not have much experience with more stringent contribution limits. Still, we can make some informed judgments about their effectiveness on the basis of evidence gathered in a few election cycles. Thus, although it appears that the overall money given to candidates went down, there was a corresponding increase in money spent outside the system through independent expenditures. Moreover, these measures may have the perverse effect of encouraging candidates to spend even more time courting contributors because a larger number of contributions are needed to wage a serious campaign. Furthermore, it is easier for incumbents to find the numbers of contributors needed to mount strong campaigns than it is for challengers. If reduced contribution limits lead to increased independent expenditures, more candidate time on fundraising, and a playing field tilted toward incumbents, then they do not fare well on grounds of fairness, responsibility, and competitiveness, even if they help on accountability.
Raising contribution limits/more disclosure. A second strategy of reform would put increased weight on full disclosure of support, while raising contribution limits or eliminating them entirely. Pursuing this strategy would, we believe, put the financing of our elections even more securely in the hands of wealthy economic interests and cause an even more dramatic skewing of public policy in favor of the big campaign contributors. Raising the limits would skew the current imbalance in contributions even more. Business interests already contribute seven times as much as labor and ten times as much as ideological groups. For example, in 1996, energy interests gave $21 million in congressional races, whereas environmental groups gave just $2 million. As the principles of accountability, fairness, and deliberation imply, the issue isn’t simply how much money is being spent and how much time it takes to raise it, but where it comes from, who provides it and who doesn’t, what obligations and conflicts of interest result, and how the political debate itself gets skewed.
If not all voters have an equal potential to make large campaign contributions, how can we square the current system with our egalitarian ideal of ‘one person, one vote?’
At the same time, the remedy of full disclosure falls short. Mere documentation does not correct the problems just noted. We already know that economic interests influence, skew, and control the political process. As Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) has commented, “We are the only human beings in the world who are expected to take thousands of dollars from perfect strangers on important matters and not be affected by it.” Assuming a reliable source of information, disclosure may inform the public of how skewed the process is, but it won’t shield our elected officials, nor will it correct for the unfair influence that contributors have over the political process. Citizens are like battered women: they already know who is hurting them, and how much. They need a way out, not more information about the source and extent of the damage.
Modest changes around the edges. A third strategy aims to control the flow of money—rather than simply providing greater information about it—but differs from contribution limits in the target of the controls. The leading such proposal at the federal level is the McCain-Feingold bill, which includes voluntary spending limits for US Senate candidates, a ban on PAC contributions to federal candidates, and regulations of “soft money,” and would require candidates to rely substantially on in-state contributions. Candidates who agree to the spending limits will receive free television time and reduced postage rates.
Though not without merit, these changes would only bring slight advantages on the reform principles. The voluntary spending limits in McCain-Feingold, for example, are only slightly lower than the current average. The House companion bill (Shays-Meehan) sets these voluntary spending limits at higher than the current average for House candidates. More fundamentally, though, we would achieve at best limited gains in fairness and accountability. That’s because the current problems are not principally a result of PACs or out-of-state contributions. PACs are now responsible for only 25 percent of funding for congressional campaigns. And because PACs are not the exclusive vehicle for wealthy donors, a PAC ban might further slant the playing field: it would disarm labor unions and other interest groups that raise their money from a large number of small contributions from their members. Business interests do not now rely on PACs for their political contributions. If PACs were banned tomorrow, business would simply channel all, rather than most, of its money through large individual contributions. A PAC ban, if constitutional, would take us back to the days when there were no PACs and most of the money came from wealthy business executives.
Furthermore, the great majority of funds for these races already comes from in-state: For Senators, 63 percent of their funds came from within their home states, and 78 percent of House candidates’ funds were raised from within their home states. Big contributors will continue to have an insurmountable advantage when it comes to gaining access and influence with elected officials; they will just be closer to home.
Partial public financing. The fourth strategy adopts a different angle on reform: Instead of looking for the optimal restrictions on private money, it aims to increase the role of public money as a supplement to private resources, perhaps by using public funds to match small contributions. Although the Maine proposal embraces the principle of public financing, we think that schemes of partial public financing are worst-of-both-worlds hybrids: they couple the most troubling effect of private financing with the most problematic aspects of public financing.
Consider the best-known case of partial public financing: the system of financing our presidential elections. Candidates must first raise lots of special interest money; after they have become indebted to those private contributors, the candidates then receive their public money. So we are asked to pay twice. First, through public financing, we support presidential candidates who are already obligated to private economic interests. Then we finance the tax breaks, subsidies, and other forms of corporate welfare granted to corporate sponsors as payback. But even systems of matching funds that—unlike the presidential scheme—attempt to amplify small contributions by providing a high ratio of public money to private money don’t change the fundamental calculus, because they don’t outlaw very large private contributions from wealthy special interests that, matching funds or no matching funds, are enormously influential.
Challenging “money equals speech.” A fifth line of approach is less a reform strategy in its own right than an effort to set the stage for substantial reform by challenging the Supreme Court’s claim that money equals speech. In its 1976 decision in Buckley v. Valeo, the Court determined that political spending was protected by the First Amendment. Though the Court agreed, as we indicated earlier, that contribution limits are legal, it also held that governments cannot impose overall spending limits on campaigns, or regulate candidates’ spending from their own pockets, or limit independent expenditures (money spent by a private group or individual without coordinating with a party or candidate). Because of Buckley, there can be no mandatory spending limits, and any system of public financing must be optional.
Thus some reformers argue that the first order of business is to challenge Buckley, perhaps through a constitutional amendment that would restrict First Amendment protections of campaign spending. But this cannot be the entire solution to the growing problem of private money in our political system. Even if we could limit spending, we would still have not dealt directly with the corrosive element—the private sources of money that produce a conflict of interest. Moreover, as advocates of the Equal Rights Amendment and the Balanced Budget Amendment would argue, a Constitutional amendment effort takes years and marshaling the forces to enact it in two-thirds of the states is daunting.
There are no formulas for political success. But reformers elsewhere might treat these features of the Maine experience as an instructive benchmark.
What role should private money play in our political system? As our brief sketch of the reform landscape indicates, an answer to this central question substantially guides an assessment of different campaign finance reform proposals. Is contributing money to campaigns an equally legitimate form of participation alongside voting and volunteering—even though not every American has the means to do it and most do not? Are large contributions just another form of participation (like going to lots of meetings) or something else altogether? If not all voters have an equal potential to make large campaign contributions (and we know they do not), how can we square the current system with our egalitarian ideal of “one person, one vote?”
Though Americans accept the legitimacy of the economic inequality that enables the rich to buy fancier cars and more homes, they do not generally accept the current role of private money in our system because they do not think that the rich are entitled to greater representation. But the current system establishes precisely that entitlement: it effectively allocates political power according to economic status, and treats participation in the political system just as it treats participation in the market. That is unfair, and the large problem with all the reform proposals we have considered thus far is that they do not do enough to correct it. To ensure a fair system, in which citizens have equal opportunities for political influence, we need to look elsewhere.
Our preferred alternative—what we call the Clean Money Option—is a system of voluntary full public financing that cuts the cord of dependency between candidates and their special interest contributors. While no solution closes off all channels of influence, the Clean Money Option blocks the path that creates most trouble for the reform principles: the donations of large sums of money by special interests to candidates who, should they win, may be able to influence policy in areas of interest to these donors. This is the proposal that Maine voters enacted and that legislatures and citizens in, for example, Vermont, Connecticut, North Carolina, Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, Idaho, Washington, and Wisconsin, will consider in the coming months and years.
The law that Maine voters passed was based on model legislation drafted by the Working Group on Electoral Democracy in the late 1980s for federal elections. The model legislation called for full public financing of campaigns for candidates who agree to spending limits, no private money, and a shorter campaign season. Over several years, Maine activists rewrote this model to fit the political reality of running for office in Maine, and running a state-wide referendum campaign to pass the legislation.
The Maine Clean Elections Act was drafted to go as far as possible in the public financing direction while remaining within the confines of Buckley. The construction of the Act makes as many changes as possible on the private side and it creates a public financing option. The measure sets lower, but not restrictive, contribution limits for candidates who continue to exercise their right to privately finance their campaigns, and, at its center, the Act established the “Clean Elections Option” to publicly finance candidates who agree to spending limits and to neither seek nor spend any private money.
For the first time, office seekers will have the option of qualifying for and accepting only public money for their election campaigns. Here is how it works: Candidates who choose to enter into the Clean Elections Option must agree to limit spending to the amount provided in public money and to refuse all private contributions once the public money comes in. They must also agree to a shorter campaign season. These candidates don’t get something for nothing. To qualify for public funds, they must collect a specified number of $5 qualifying contributions from voters in their district (or state-wide in the case of governor). A small amount of private money can be raised as start up “seed money,” but these contributions are limited to $100 and there is an overall cap. The key difference from matching funds schemes is that they can neither raise nor spend any private money once they receive public money. Moreover, this law covers primaries as well as general elections. “Clean Election” candidates would also receive supplementary public funds if they are outspent by privately-financed opponents, or independent expenditures, or a combination of the two. These funds would be capped at twice the original amount provided to the candidate.
Returning to our five principles, then, what are the advantages of the Clean Money option? By providing an alternative to the special interest system for financing elections, the Clean Money Option will level the playing field for candidates, thus enhancing electoral competition. At the same time, public money will lower the economic barriers now faced by citizens who might consider running for office and, by reducing the role of private money, increase the importance of the political activities available to all citizens. In both ways, Clean Money should mean a more fair political system, with greater equality in opportunities for political influence. Unlike any other proposals, the Clean Money Option also strengthens accountability by eliminating political contributions as a way of impacting legislative deliberation and policy making. In addition, the Clean Money Option would establish greater responsibility by freeing our elected officials from the perpetual money chase, and allowing them to use their time to engage important issues of the day free of the undue influence of special interest money. Finally, while the implications for political deliberation are uncertain, the same can be said for any of the other proposals. And there is no reason to think that public financing will produce even greater distraction from important public issues than the current system provides.
When Maine reformers first raised the possibility of a public financing system, they were told they were dreaming—that voters would never go for public financing. And with politicians like President Clinton urging that we squeeze politics into bite-sized morsels—school uniforms as a centerpiece of educational reform—proposing a total overhaul of the way we pay for elections seemed quixotic. But Maine voters countered prevailing wisdom and passed the proposal by a convincing margin.
Why was this case different? For three reasons.
First, and most straightforwardly, partial measures and tinkering around the edges are ineffective and the American public knows it.
Second, people are so disgusted with the problem of money in politics that they are willing to entertain fundamental changes in the rules of the game. Polling results consistently show that campaign finances lie at the heart of citizen discontent with politics. Americans believe that Washington’s failure to address their problems is the direct result of politicians accepting too much campaign money from special interests. They believe that money forces politicians to bow to the agendas of those who sign the checks.
Public opinion is way ahead of politicians on the public financing solution. Polling by the Mellman Group (for the Center for Responsive Politics) shows that Americans are more supportive of a public financing solution to the problems of money and politics than at any time since Watergate. Gallup polling done before the recent revelations about campaign finances in Washington equaled support for public financing in the mid-1970s. A national poll done for Citizen Action by Stanley Greenberg showed 61 percent support for “a new law where the federal government would provide a fixed amount of money for the campaigns for Congress and all private contributions would be prohibited.”
Other recent studies and public opinion research corroborates these findings. The League of Women Voters and the Harwood Group conducted a series of longitudinal focus groups/discussions with citizens in six cities across the country. The participants concluded that a system that provides an option for keeping all special interest money out and replacing it with public money was needed as one step in restoring faith in the democratic process. Bannon Research conducted five different state-wide polls in 1994 indicating similar sentiments.
But as political junkies like to say, the only poll that matters is on Election Day. And—here we come to the third factor—elections are won by organizations, and the Maine campaign provides instructive lessons for other efforts elsewhere.
The campaign waged by Maine Voters for Clean Elections was a result of years of research, coalition-building, and grassroots organizing. With ongoing technical assistance from the Northeast Citizen Action Resource Center, a regional network of progressive organizations and elected leaders, the Maine reformers identified the problem, established a role for their analysis in the public dialogue, and became the arbiters of what was—and was not—serious reform. Building a reputation for fair and non-partisan research, Maine reformers reached out to all ends of the political spectrum to build the coalition base necessary to move the issue forward. Coalition partners—including the state chapters of the League of Women Voters, American Association of Retired People, Common Cause, the Maine AFL-CIO, leading environmental and women’s organizations, the Citizen Action-affiliate, and the Perot-led Reform Party—met for two and a half years to draft a solution that would withstand constitutional challenge, effectively address the problem, and be politically viable. The idea was to be principled and to win.
When the coalition could not move a principled reform through the Maine State Legislature—forty reform bills, some good, most bad, died in the State Legislature over ten years—the members, under the banner Maine Voters for Clean Elections, decided to bring the issue to the voters. With substantial grassroots organizing, the coalition collected 65,000 signatures in a single day, and placed a binding referendum question on the 1996 ballot. Demonstrating the breadth of its appeal, the campaign recruited business leaders and received the active endorsement of the former director of the state’s Chamber of Commerce and a well-respected former CEO of Bath Iron Works, the largest private employer in the state.
An aggressive public education campaign—waged door-to-door, at forums, in the media, and on the airwaves—ensued with the aim of persuading Maine voters to adopt, in the language of the ballot question, “new campaign laws and give public funding for state candidates who agree to spending limits.” By mid-summer, the campaign had the support of a plurality of voters, but not a majority. The large hurdle was the public financing strategy itself: though a substantial majority supported the results that public financing would produce—blunting the influence of special interests and leveling the playing field—many had trouble believing that the system could be cleaned up and were especially hesitant about public financing as a means for advancing those goals. By stressing that the solution would clean up politics, the campaign was able to introduce a concept that historically has been unpopular (public financing) and couple it with strongly desired results (spending limits, no private money, shorter campaign, etc.). The idea was to frame the argument in terms of problems and goals, not of means: “What will Question 3 do? It will lower campaign spending by providing a Clean Elections Option of public money for candidates who agree not to take any private special interest money.” The public education efforts similarly struck a balance between problem and proposed solution: for example, in the last eight weeks of the campaign, 200 people were encouraged to submit letters to the editor each week, alternating between discussing the problem and explaining the solution.
In short, Maine Voters for Clean Elections organized a broad coalition, well beyond the “usual suspects”; spoke directly to citizens, in countless forums and meetings; and kept an emphasis on the goals of reform, not simply the means. There are no formulas for political success. But reformers elsewhere might treat these features of the Maine experience as an instructive benchmark.
Can the Maine proposal be generalized to the federal level? A Clean Money Option will certainly face rough sledding in Washington, but so will all other serious reforms. Moreover, tangible signs suggest that Maine’s success story is not falling on deaf ears. A number of senators are poised to introduce a Clean Money Option bill, which would at once signify progress and provide the opportunity for those of us who care about this approach to enter the national debate.
But the most dramatic and immediate impact of Maine’s success will be in other states. Nearly a dozen states have some kind of full public financing under legislative consideration or headed for the ballot. Editorial endorsements have come from all over, from national, regional, and local papers, including USA Today, the Boston Globe, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Hartford Courant, Rutland Herald, and Portland [Maine] Press Herald. The Boston Globe wrote that the Maine plan ought to be considered a “blueprint” for national reform.
While the near-term focus for debate on campaign finance reform will be in Washington, the real debate about the appropriate role of private money in our public elections and public policy will take place in the states. Inside the Beltway, the dominant question is: What can be won today? We should be asking: What is worth winning? Keeping that question in focus is the goal of a new national education effort—spearheaded by a new national organization, Public Campaign. It is working to galvanize broad public support behind reforms that fully address the central and most egregious aspect of today’s campaign finance system—the direct financing of our public officials by private interests. And, in due course, the old adage from Downeast may once again come alive, “As goes Maine, so goes the nation.”
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April 01, 1997
28 Min read time