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What Should Be Done About Campaign Finance? | The Nation

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Jamelle Bouie

Jamelle Bouie

 Politics, wonkery and everything in between.

What Should Be Done About Campaign Finance?

Political scientist Seth Masket is skeptical about campaign finance reform and its efficacy:

[C]ampaign finance reform, to a very large extent, simply hasn’t worked. That is, every time a government tries to enact a specific contribution or spending limit to reduce the amount of money in elections (FECA, BCRA, you name it), innovative donors and candidates figure out ways around it. You want to give more than the limit to a group of candidates? Fine, just donate to a 527 or some sort of independent expenditure committee that can spend unlimited amounts on behalf of a candidate…This is part of the reason that, despite decades of campaign finance reform, the amount spent in campaigns continues to rise, much faster than inflation.

Masket goes on to note that this web of rules has the unintended effect of making the system less transparent. Because so many individuals have formed so many groups to get around campaign finance laws, it’s much harder to determine basics like who is donating and where there money is going.

Everything in politics, from building campaigns to communicating with voters, costs money, and there’s no way to avoid that. But the problem isn’t the quantity of money – running television ads is expensive, after all – as much as it is the limited sources politicians have to draw on. If reducing the flow of money is an unworkable approach to campaign finance reform, then the next best alternative is to broaden the base for donations. Matching systems are one mechanism for this, but there are others, including full-on public funding of campaigns.

Regardless, the important thing to remember is that the amount of money in politics is less important than who it comes from. A $1 billion campaign funded by 10 million people is much preferable to a smaller campaign ($200 million) with fewer donors.

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