What do you think about when you cast a vote?
For many people, they want politicians to represent certain moral values. There may be a specific issue that a voter is passionate about and they may want their representative to fight for a similar belief. When corporations or special interests monetarily support politicians in a similar way, it can lead a potential political influence in the future that may benefit the company or group. This comes at the expense of the needs of the majority.
That is why campaign finance reform is often promoted. By limiting the influence of high-donation entities, the goal is to create a platform that supports the general needs of the entire population instead of a select few.
Here are the pros and cons of campaign finance reform to think about.
What Are the Pros of Campaign Finance Reform?
1. Values for Federal contribution limits are incredibly limited.
Individual federal contribution limits have rarely been adjusted since they were set at $1,000 in 1974. According to the Federal Election Commission, an individual can give a maximum of $2,700 per election to a federal candidate or their campaign committee. Primaries, runoffs, and general elections are considered separate. PAC contributions are also capped to $5,000 per calendar year. Couples who share an account are allowed to reach their individual caps.
2. Incumbents are often supported, especially by PACs.
This allows for politicians on short-term election cycles in the US, like those who serve in the House of Representatives, to have a greater say in Washington. PAC support allows for a message to get out to the voter base, helping to organize people who are passionate about specific issues and changes that need to happen for specific communities.
3. Candidates have more time to focus on the issues.
Because fundraising statutes clearly direct where money can be raised, how it can be raised, and who can contribute, it becomes easier to get the money needed for a campaign. Instead of dealing with an election cycle, campaign finance reform allows a politician to focus more on the issues that are happening in real-time. This creates the potential of having more effective representation for each district.
4. There are several groups that are prohibited from making contributions.
Most individuals are free to make a political contribution, but certain individuals or groups that may have an undue influence on the political process are forbidden from monetarily participating. This includes people who are foreign nationals unless they have been admitted for permanent residence in the United States. Contributions from corporations and labor unions are also forbidden, including nonprofit organizations. Individual members of an organization or union, however, can make contributions through a corporate drawing account.
5. Multiple forms of donations are included in campaign finance reforms.
Many people consider a political contribution being cash, a check, or a credit card payment. Currency, however, is not the only form of a donation that is restricted thanks to modern campaign finance reform. The value of a donated item also counts against the contribution limits. The donation of a service is considered an in-kind contribution and counts as well.
6. It creates a dialogue.
Because of the reforms that have been put into place, politicians must engage with their voter base to discuss policies and issues of concern. There is no longer a total reliance on TV and radio advertising to speak with the voter. Today’s politicians are holding more town hall events, open question-and-answer meet-and-greet opportunities, and have made it easier to contact their offices to express an opinion.
What Are the Cons of Campaign Finance Reform?
1. Most people don’t have the money to contribute to a specific candidate.
Nearly half of all American households don’t even have $1,000 in savings right now. The idea of contributing $2,700 to a candidate, therefore, is something that is completely out of reach for many people. This means people must either organize at the grassroots level and contribute what they can to make an impact or risk having their local elections influenced by those who can afford to make maximum contributions.
2. Voter communities become more segregated.
Campaign finance reform as created pockets of partisanship throughout the United States where like-minded people tend to congregate. This is done because of the challenges that are in place for those who are trying to take on the incumbent. Open House of Representative races have declined by more than 70 seats since 1996, according to CNN. With redistricting involved as well, over 90% of incumbents are typically re-elected, despite Congressional approval ratings that are consistently below 20%.
3. National, state, and local party committee donations have much higher caps.
People with means have an ability to contribute a lot more to state and local party committees, which can help to influence local elections. Then the local elections can help to influence the representative elections that select politicians to go to Washington. Under current guidelines, up to $10,000 may be contributed per calendar year to a state or local party committee. Individuals may contribute up to $33,900 to a national party committee.
4. Anonymous contributions are allowed.
The Federal Election Commission allows for anonymous cash donations of $50 or less to be made without limit. This further separates American households that do not have the money to contribute to their political system from those who do have the socioeconomic means to influence policy.
5. More money is going into every election.
Multiple PACs are allowed to support a specific candidate and raise money on their behalf. Individual politicians can even start their own PAC and have it be run by trusted advisers. This has created a political system that floods the airwaves with political advertising. It has even led to advertising for specific policies or goals, such as the 2017 advertising campaigns which encouraged people to support the political cabinet appointees.
6. People can act on their own without limitation.
If someone has the socioeconomic means, they can campaign independently of the campaign finance reform laws by not making direct contributions to a politician or PAC. This allows them to spend more money on political activities through independent expenditures, making it legally possible to evade limits. This further adds to the influence that those with more means have compared to those who do not have the same amount of financial support.
The pros and cons of campaign finance reform show that there are a lot of good intentions, but not necessarily good results. Although some contributions are restricted and total influence is capped for all, this only applies to a direct payment or donation of goods and services. People can act independently or work through an organization to have a higher level of influence than someone without the means or connections to do so. This has created a system which could be argued as being even more unfair than before reforms were initiated.