Keep Your Caps On

Laura MacCleery of the Brennan Center for Justice challenges a recent proposition in Roll Call to deal with the largely unregulated activities of independent "527" committees in elections by loosening campaign contributions limits, suggesting that a much better alternative is a robust full public financing program for federal elections.

The article, which is available in full only to subscribers gives some perspective to the immense amount of money being spent this election cycle:

 

Wealthy individuals who want to give all they can to parties, candidates and political action committees can pony up $65,500 to just the parties over a two-year election cycle, or as much as $108,200 in all three categories. The sky-high total represents a stunning 225 percent of the average national income for a family of four in 2006 and is clearly an unreachable target for most voters.

MacCleery argues that, while better regulation over 527 activities is justified, raising the caps on federal contribution limits will have a negative effect on competitive elections and push spending even further out of control.

 

Considering the paltry number of federal races in which meaningful competition exists, and the steep incumbency advantage already redistricted into the system, further increases in limits are a terrible idea. The real answer is not to make political action committees (shudder) more “in charge,” as the editorial suggests, but to decrease the influence of special-interest dollars by establishing a robust, voluntary system of public funding for elections.

The solution to the problem of special-interest money in politics is not to allow more special-interest money. Public funding enables viable candidates to stand on their own two feet and mount a real campaign that is not dependent on special-interest monies. No one step could be more helpful to weaning American elections off their addiction to private cash. While independent expenditures will continue, candidates will be less dependent on the wealthy interests who run the ads and bankroll campaigns, because public financing will give candidates the means to speak for themselves.

Though not mentioned explicitly in the article, the Fair Elections Now Act introduced in the Senate, along with companion legislation in the House, would give candidates for Congress the opportunity to run for office with full public funding and give them a viable alternative to taking big special interest money.