Better Parties, Better Government: A Realistic Program for Campaign Finance Reform
Peter J. Wallison
American Enterprise Institute (AEI)
Joel M. Gora
Brooklyn Law School
June 12, 2009
BETTER PARTIES, BETTER GOVERNMENT: A REALISTIC PROGRAM FOR CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM, AEI Press, 2009
This book does three things. First, it surveys the path of campaign finance regulations since 1971, concluding that the vast majority of provisions - ostensibly designed to reform political practices, keep politicians honest and limit the influence of contributors - have in reality protected incumbents by reducing the funds available to challengers. Although the courts have struck down many of the most egregious incumbent-protection measures enacted by Congress, important ones still remain - particularly restrictions on what political parties can spend in support of their candidates. These restrictions explain why reelection rates for incumbents are so high - up to 98 percent in recent years - despite record-low approval ratings for Congress and demonstrate how the current tangle of laws complex rules, regulations, exceptions, exemptions, and safe harbors that constitute our current campaign finance regime works to the advantage of those who created it.
Second, the book surveys various proposed alternatives to our current regulatory regime and finds that most of them would simply perpetuate the incumbent-protective features of the current system, particularly public funding schemes based on mandating campaign funding limits for those who accept government subsidies for their campaigns.
Finally, the book suggests that the most modest, yet potentially very effective way to change our current pro-incumbent system is to lift the restrictions on political parties, allowing them to become both the principal vehicles for political fundraising and the principal sources of campaign funds for their candidates. This would improve funding resources for challengers, strengthen the parties, reduce the appearance of corruption inherent in the current candidate-centered fundraising system, and ultimately strengthen American democracy. The book argues that this single reform of ending the restrictions on spending by political parties in support of their candidates would make elections more competitive, improve the candidate and policy choices available to voters and thereby transform American politics.
Keywords: campaign finance, election, election reform
Date posted: June 13, 2009 ; Last revised: June 15, 2009