Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Why Campaign Finance Reform?

Cross posted from ICPR's blog, The Race is On:

Papers around the state have touted the need for campaign finance reform. The Bloomington Pantagraph editorialized this weekend, "Putting limits on donations made by individuals, parties, corporations and political action committees to political campaigns may not end corruption in Illinois. But it would be a good start." Jim Muir's Sunday column in the Southern quoted John Jackson, a visiting Professor at SUIC, "this bothers the people of Illinois and the indication is that we are very skeptical and quite cynical, and probably campaign finance is the number one reason behind that skepticism and cynicism… As a people we are very skeptical that [elected officials] come awfully close to being for sale." And the Rock Island Argus and Moline Dispatch wrote that pay to play reform "is essential to restore faith in a state government that many consider one of the most corrupt in the country."

We agree with all of them. Illinois' campaign finance rules are the most wide-open, least regulated in the nation. Any candidate can take as much money from any donor as they can persuade the donor to part with. And the result is voter cynicism about the conflict between constituents and contributors for official's loyalties.

Campaign finance reform is nobody's top issue. Most people assume government will be well-run and responsive to voters concerns. When it's not, however, voters start asking why they're not getting what they deserve from their elected officials. By allowing specialized interests to target huge donations -- not just tens of thousands of dollars at a time but multiples of average annual household earnings -- to candidates for office, Illinois' Election Code fosters the impression that bribes and campaign donations are the same thing. To restore public faith in government, and to make clear that constituents matter far more than contributors each and every time that an elected casts a vote, Illinois must change the way campaigns are funded.

11 comments:

Jeff Trigg 2:07 PM  

Too bad NONE of those newspapers even mentioned gerrymandering, 50% of General Assembly races being unopposed election after election, or Illinois' worst in the world ballot access laws. Anyone talking about campaign/election law reform that refuses to address those facts can't be taken entirely seriously because they factor into who gets elected much MORE than money does. Money doesn't matter when you have no opponent.

Also refusing to address those key issues gives the impression campaign reform efforts are more about incumbent protection than they are any real democratic process protection. The 7th Circuit just ruled Illinois' ballot access laws unconstitutional, for crying out loud. Where is ICPR and the newspapers on that?

IlliniPundit 3:32 PM  

Too bad none of those newspapers mentioned that Federal campaign finance "reform" has done nothing to reduce federal corruption.

It has, however, greatly restricted the free speech rights of average citizens and empowered a media that now trumpets the need for further "reforms."

David 4:50 PM  

Thanks for the comments! Quickly --

Jeff, I assume you don't think that ballot access reform is the key to fixing Illinois' political culture? There is need on many fronts, and if we're talking about one, I hope people don't see that as neglect of another.

IlliniPundit -- There are federal scandals aplenty, sure; and campaign finance reforms aren't the silver bullet (see above). But they're a start. Note that federal scandals generally aren't linked to buying votes, except for the plain vanilla bribery that existed in California. To your second point, every court ruling on the subject has seen reasonable limits as a reasonable accomodation; you can argue with the Supreme Court, but you also have to abide by their decisions. What level would you think is acceptable?

IlliniPundit 5:11 PM  

"There are federal scandals aplenty, sure; and campaign finance reforms aren't the silver bullet (see above). But they're a start. Note that federal scandals generally aren't linked to buying votes, except for the plain vanilla bribery that existed in California."

Please tell me which of the Federal scandals of 2006 would have been prevented by your Campaign Finance "Reform" laws?

Ney? Nope.
Abramoff? Nope.
Cunningham? Nope.
Earmarks? Nope.

"To your second point, every court ruling on the subject has seen reasonable limits as a reasonable accomodation; you can argue with the Supreme Court, but you also have to abide by their decisions. What level would you think is acceptable?"

The First Amendment says, "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech."

To me, "no law abridging the freedom of speech" would be an acceptable standard. I wish the Supreme Court felt likewise.

Why do you think it should be OK for the Chicago Tribune to spend $10,000 to tell my neighbors what they think about my Congressman, but if I do it, it should be illegal?

Jeff Trigg 5:43 PM  

Actually, I see gerrymandering as the biggest contributor to our current culture. With half the races unopposed, of course they are better able to shift funds from this district to that district. That aspect of reform I believe can be largely accomplished by ending gerrymandering and opening access to the ballots. When every district has at least two candidates on the ballot, most money will stay put. And the increased competition will require current candidates to be more ethical or lose. Party leaders would also then have less strings to pull and the elected officials could be more independent to represent their district's interests rather than their party leader's interests. No more budget votes a half hour after it's released would go a long way.

I see the lack of political competition as the root problem. The money aspect is only a symptom. The need to reform campaign finances may very well be moot once we have a culture of truly competitive elections. Limiting fundraising opportunities for competition precisely when you are trying to encourage more competition is not ideal, to say the least.

I would also say it isn't fair to the Greens, for example, that they will have to try to grow with more limits and restrictions than the entrenched parties. Limiting contributions before gerrymandering and ballot access laws are reformed only serves to protect the current political monopoly.

Corruption is born out of that monopoly power the two parties currently enjoy. We don't have a problem with corrupt independents and "new" parties, the problem is with Democrats and Republicans precisely because they have too much power. Restricting donations does nothing to reduce their monopoly power as I see it.

I truly believe the better check on their power is competition and choice, not restrictions, unless the restrictions only applied to them which wouldn't be free or equal.

Jeff Trigg 5:49 PM  

I should add I don't believe corporations, unions, PAC's etc. should have the same freedoms as individual human beings. My campaign finance reform would ban all contributions from non-individuals, but then let individuals be free to do with their money what they want. Maybe I'm weird, but the 1st Amendment was written for people, not pieces of paper.

David 7:09 PM  

I'm beginning to see why some bloggers block all comments. I appreciate Jeff Trigg's input. Competition is a problem, and gerrymandering is one of the things that limits competition. That's why ICPR put out reports last year on gerrymandering and ballot access, and we anticipate doing so again. Illinois' problems are multifaceted and no one silver bullet will fix things.

As for IlliniPundit, blogs aren't good places for legal arguments. If you don't like the "bona fide news organization" exemption to the electioneering communications provision, take it up with the Supreme Court. I never said that campaign finance reform would fix everything; please re-read my original post, or my other responces above. I think, as the editorials that originally prompted this blog post note, that letting the very wealthy spend unlimited funds on elections is undemocratic. Your other comments are getting far afield

Anonymous,  11:09 AM  
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
IlliniPundit 2:11 PM  

"I'm beginning to see why some bloggers block all comments."

Well, I guess I should be offended, but I only have two points:

First, it should be no surprise that newspapers are editorializing in favor of legislation that makes them more powerful. Yet your organization is using those editorials as some sort of disinterested evidence of the benefits of campaign finance "reform." I think that's disingenuous at best - news media corporations are not disinterested observers when it comes to campaign finance "reform."

Second, campaign finance restrictions don't prevent corruption - disclosure does, because it enables voters to identify and remove corrupt politicians. (If you were to propose a bill that required 100% online disclosure within 24 hours, I'd be all for it.) But the rest of your restrictions will only make it harder for challengers to unseat incumbents. And that won't reduce corruption, it will exacerbate it.

I'm sorry if my comments are bothering you, but I think your push for greater restrictions on the political activities of Illinoisans is a public policy disaster. One needs to look no farther than McCain-Feingold to see the unintended consequences of your otherwise well-meaning legislation.

David 7:36 PM  

Pundit, you're generalizing in ways that aren't warrented. if you read the editorials, what they're talking about is restricting the ability of state contractors to make large campaign contributions to the state official who oversees their contract. If you really think that the state gets better services because contractors can give unlimited amounts to the official who gives them a contract, if you think that would be a "public policy disaster," then please say why. It's when you deviate from the post into a standard rant on other aspects of federal legislation that makes me understand why some blogs block comments. That's my point. I'm not trying to give offense. 'Nuff said.

IlliniPundit 8:15 PM  
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