Every federal campaign finance reform law enacted since 1971_ostensibly intended to keep politicians honest and limit the influence of contributors_has in reality protected incumbents by reducing the funds available to challengers. Although the courts have struck down many of the most egregious incumbent-protection measures enacted by Congress, important ones still remain_particularly restrictions on what political parties can spend in support of their candidates. These restrictions explain why reelection rates for incumbents are so high_up to 98 percent in recent years_despite record-low approval ratings for Congress. The most effective way to change this pro-incumbent system is to lift the restrictions on political parties, allowing them to become both the principal vehicles for political fundraising and the principal sources of campaign funds for their candidates. This would improve funding resources for challengers, strengthen the parties, reduce the appearance of corruption inherent in the current candidate-centered fundraising system, and ultimately strengthen American democracy. In Better Parties, Better Government: A Realistic Program for Campaign Finance Reform, Peter J. Wallison and Joel M. Gora guide us through the complex tangle of laws, rules, regulations, exceptions, exemptions, and safe harbors that constitute our current campaign finance regime, and explain how to reform the system with a single change: ending the restrictions on spending by political parties in support of their candidates. This single reform will make elections more competitive, improve the candidate and policy choices available to voters, and thereby transform American politics.
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About the Author
Peter J. Wallison is the Arthur F. Burns Fellow in Financial Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. A former general counsel of the U.S. Treasury department, he was also counsel to Vice President Nelson A. Rockefeller and White House counsel to President Ronald Reagan. Joel M. Gora is a professor at Brooklyn Law School and former legal counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union. As an ACLU lawyer, he represented the plaintiffs in the Buckley v. Valeo case, arguing that the requirements of the Federal Election Campaign Act violated the rights protected by the First Amendment and heavily favored incumbents.