Campaign Finance Reform




With the introduction of “soft” money in politics, elections no longer go to the best candidate, but simply to the richer one. Soft money is defined as unregulated money that is given to the political parties that ends up being used by candidates in an election. In last year’s elections, the Republican and Democratic parties raised more than one-half of a billion dollars in soft money. Current politicians are pushing the envelope farther than any previous administrations when it comes to finding loopholes in the legal system for campaign fundraising. The legal limit that any one person can contribute to a given candidate or campaign is one thousand dollars. There is, however, no limit on the amount of money one can contribute to a political party. Therefore people can contribute unlimited amounts to financially support “issue ads” which support a particular candidate without actually saying vote for or against an individual. There is currently a bill being petitioned in the Senate that would change the laws to include soft money under the classification of campaign money. It would then be regulated like all other money that a candidate raises.
The main argument that has halted past legislature on campaign finance reform sites the first amendment. Many people feel it is their constitutional right to contribute to a campaign in any amount or manner they see fit. The Supreme Court, in Buckley versus Valeo, ruled that congress cannot regulate when a candidate may put ads on television because it is a violation of the first amendment. The Supreme Court sited in its ruling that, “One’s right to speak in his own behalf in an election campaign protects the expenditure of funds that are used to buy advertising, which reflects the views of that candidate. That is speech, and to restrict it in any way by congress is unconstitutional” (Williams 10). The Supreme Court also sited in that same ruling that, “In a free society by our Constitution, it is not the government, but the people-individually as citizens and candidates and collectively as associations and political committees-who must retain control over the quantity and range of debate on public issues in a political campaign” (Keena 6). While it may be a violation of freedom of speech to limit television ads, many of today’s candidates have made a mockery of the existing legislature regarding campaign financing. Ex-president Bill Clinton bent the rules and laws more than possibly any elected official ever, and certainly farther than anyone since Richard Nixon. Thad Cochran, a veteran Republican senator from Mississippi, stated, “Clinton used his own party and had it operated out of the campaign office, which was the White House, to coordinate expenditures by the Democratic Party and his election campaign in an unlimited amount, using soft money to pay for the ads, with his own chief-of-staff making the decisions about the kind of advertising, and Clinton himself was involved in writing some of the ads that were actually run by the Democratic Party using soft money” (Williams 10). No elected official had ever gone so far as to run soft money ads out of his own office, let alone rewrite the ads himself. It is cases such as this one that are prime examples for why there is such a need for new laws to govern campaign financing. According to John Quincy Adams, our nation’s second president, “To pay money to secure an election, whether directly or indirectly, is incorrect in principle” (Gillon 201). It seems as though today’s candidates care little about principle, as it becomes increasingly apparent they just want to do whatever it takes to win. Anyone in doubt that elections seem to go strictly to the candidate raising the most money will find that a shocking statistic. In every election since 1976, the candidate who has won his party’s nomination for the presidency has been the one that raised the most money in the year preceding the election, and qualified for federal matching funds. It is becoming increasingly apparent with every set of elections that only wealthy candidates can win an elected office, because the average citizen has been priced out of the race.
There are actually laws that prohibit the main contributors of soft money, such as corporations, unions,