Monday, September 28, 2009

A campaign finance reform refresher course

isconsin Political Fix
not just another blog
September 27, 2009

By Bill Kraus

Okay, class, let’s go over this again. I know it’s easy to forget. But it’s important.

The main objective of all the campaign reform ideas is to set spending limits.

These should be high enough so candidates, particularly less well known and new candidates, will be able to raise enough money to become well enough known to attract enough votes to run competitive races.

The basic reform proposal is an incentive for candidates to accept a spending limit. If a candidate agrees to abide by the spending limit the government will wholly or partially fund his or her campaign.

The dangers of agreeing to a spending limit are not inconsequential in an era where money is perceived as crucial to political success.

The first is that one of the candidates may be wealthy or well funded enough to not agree to limit spending. The reforms handle this by agreeing to add more public money to offset what the so-called “millionaires” spend.

Anyone agreeing to a spending limit is also exposed to the risks that come from third parties that decide to participate in the campaign.

Some third-party participants are overt. They run separate, parallel campaigns with unlimited amounts of money which they raise from unidentified sources to outspend the spending-limited candidate.

Other third-party campaigns are more subtle. They spend their money in favor of or against an issue or idea and ask voters to “contact” not “vote for or against” the candidate who doesn’t share their opinion on this issue or idea.

The comprehensive reform measures provide public funds to offset the spending in the campaign by both kinds of third parties.

The theory and hope is that because additional public money will be available to spending-limited candidates, the millionaires and third parties will decide that it is not in their interest to participate, because by doing so they will actually be putting money into the campaigns of candidates they dislike.

The reform legislation is complex. The idea is simple. One incentive. Three disincentives.

Class dismissed.

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1 comment:

  1. It's difficult for me to see a reasonable solution to campaign finance reform other that full public funding. It's easy to understand why that is a difficult sell given the condition of the state budget and the fact that the very people that benefit from the current system would have to change it. To me the only way to get there is incrementally. A good place to start would be to generate a funding source. I suggest we start taxing all political donations (say at 50%) with the money going to a segregated fund that will eventually fund campaigns. If people have the disposable income to donate to campaigns they can be part of the eventual solution.