Money, Power, and Elections: How Campaign Finance Reform Subverts American Democracy

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Overview

Have campaign finance reform laws actually worked? Is money less influential in electing candidates today than it was thirty years ago when legislation was first enacted? Absolutely not, argues Rodney A. Smith in this passionately written, fact-filled, and provocative book. According to Smith, the laws have had exactly the opposite of their intended effect. They have increased the likelihood that incumbents in the House and Senate will be reelected, and they have greatly diminished the chances that candidates who are not wealthy will be elected. Smith's claims are supported by convincing data; he collected and analyzed information about all federal elections since 1920. These data show clearly that money matters now more than ever.

Smith thinks that reform legislation has created a new inequality for candidates that, if left unchecked, threatens to destroy the American electoral process by obliterating the foundational principle of free speech. He argues that "money buys speech" and when candidates lack money to buy media time and space they are effectively silenced. Their inability to "speak freely" violates the most significant intentions of our nation's founders: that a sovereign citizenry elect its own leaders based on a free exchange of ideas. For Smith, campaign finance reform has unwittingly unbalanced the checks and balances created by the Framers of the Constitution.

After presenting a detailed historical overview of how we have reached the present crisis, Smith proposes a simple solution: institute a process that completely discloses relevant information about campaign donors and recipients of donations. All disclosures would be available to the media, which would be able to investigate and report them fully. Only then, Smith believes, will the United States have the opportunity to be the democratic republic that its founders intended.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Smith (former national finance director, Republican National Committe) contends that recent attempts (e.g., in 1974 and 2002) to limit campaign contributions have had the unintended effect of increasing the reelection rates of incumbents in both houses of Congress (supported with election statistics, 1920-2000) and reducing the possibility that people of average means will be elected. The author believes that, by limiting contributions, campaign finance laws are really restricting free speech. In lieu of such regulation, Smith calls for laws mandating full disclosure of every campaign contribution, trusting the free press to raise questions appropriately. While the arguments are passionate and apparently supported by data, the case is not fully made. Political scientists before 1974 noted the increase in incumbent success, with current explanations tending to focus on incumbency advantages and changes in redistricting techniques that assured incumbents less competitive districts. Data on campaign contributions are limited to the years after 1992, which leaves no basis for comparison with the years before 1974. What does Smith make of the 1890s-1920s, when there were precious few regulations and a vigorous free press, but corruption tied to money, which the Progressives sought to fight? And, most troubling, in an age when there are fewer newspapers and more and more media are owned by a small number of large corporations, can we blithely assume the media will remain free and independent? Recommended only for larger public libraries and academic libraries. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807131282
  • Publisher: Louisiana State University Press
  • Publication date: 5/1/2006
  • Series: Politics@media Ser.
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

A certified public accountant, Rodney A. Smith is a political consultant and fund-raiser. In the past thirty years, he has raised over a billion dollars for candidates and political committees. He has been the national finance director for the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee and served as treasurer and finance director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. He is the only finance professional ever honored as the "Most Valuable Player in a Campaign" by the American Association of Political Consultants. He lives in Washington, D.C.

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