The Last Hurrah?: Soft Money and Issue Advocacy in the 2002 Congressional Elections

The Last Hurrah?: Soft Money and Issue Advocacy in the 2002 Congressional Elections

by David B. Magleby, J. Quin Monson

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780815796404
Publisher: Brookings Institution Press
Publication date: 04/08/2004
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 288
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

David B. Magleby is dean of the School of Family, Home, and Social Sciences at Brigham Young University, where he is also a professor of political science. He is the editor of Financing the 2000 Election (Brookings 2002), and coauthor of Government by the People, which is now in its twenty-first edition. J. Quin Monson is assistant director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University. His work has appeared recently in Political Research Quarterly and Political Analysis.

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The Last Hurrah?

Soft Money and Issue Advocacy in the 2002 Congressional Elections

Brookings Institution Press

Copyright © 2004 Brookings Institution Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8157-5436-1

Chapter One

The Importance of Outside Money in the 2002 Congressional Elections


The relative role of candidates, parties, and interest groups in competitive congressional elections has undergone a dramatic transformation since 1996. Before 1996, and in noncompetitive races since, candidates were the primary loci of activity in raising and spending campaign money. The vast majority of congressional contests are not competitive, but those few competitive races have become battlegrounds for control of Congress. The close party balance at all levels of government and in the electorate has also amplified the importance of competitive elections.

We began monitoring competitive races in 1998, in response to the dramatic transformation of individual donors, political parties, and interest groups that began in 1996. The first campaign finance watershed in 1996 was the use of party soft money for candidate promotion or attack. Democratic political consultant Dick Morris, with the approval of party lawyers, developed a strategy that "by the end of the race ... had spent almost $35 million on issue-advocacy ads (in addition to the $50 million on conventional candidate-oriented media)." The Republicans followed suit, and the widespread use of soft money to attack and promote candidates was in full swing.

In our 1998 and 2000 studies we documented the surge in party soft money for candidate-specific electioneering purposes. In both election cycles, party campaign committees made the raising and spending of soft money a high priority. Unlike contributions and coordinated spending, soft money can be spent in unlimited amounts. In 2000 the parties went a step further and made it easier for donors to contribute hard and soft money simultaneously by establishing joint fund-raising committees with candidates (sometimes called victory committees). These devices allow donors in a single check to designate contributions to candidates (hard dollars), party committees (hard dollars), and party soft-money accounts. The growth of joint fund-raising committees for candidates and party committees readily permits donors to signal their candidate preferences. Some of the most important advantages of soft money are that it can be raised and spent by the parties in unlimited amounts, and corporations and unions can contribute treasury funds as soft money.

The second campaign finance watershed in 1996 was the use of issue advocacy for specific candidate promotion or attack purposes. The American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) was the first group to mount a large-scale campaign effort, while avoiding disclosure and contribution limits. The Supreme Court in the Buckley v. Valeo decision defined election-related communications as ads that use words like "vote for," "elect," "support," "cast your ballot for," "Smith for Congress," "vote against," "defeat," and "reject." The AFL-CIO avoided these words but, as the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) contended in a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, the ads advocated "the defeat of a clearly identified candidate in the 1996 congressional election." In 1996 the AFL-CIO spent $35 million, much of it on television, aimed at defeating 105 members of Congress, including 32 heavily targeted Republican freshmen. Labor ran television ads in forty districts, distributed over 11.5 million voter guides in twenty-four districts, and broadcast radio ads in many others.

Following labor's lead, the business community mounted its own unlimited and undisclosed campaign named The Coalition-Americans Working for Real Change. Groups involved in this campaign included the National Federation of Independent Business, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, the National Restaurant Association, and the National Association of Manufacturers. The coalition was active in thirty-seven House races, spent an estimated $5 million on over 13 thousand television and radio ads, and mailed over 2 million letters. Another Republican-leaning group using this tactic in 1996 was Triad Management Services.

The absence of action by the Federal Election Commission to bar issue-advocacy electioneering created the climate for expanded activity by these and other groups, which we have documented in past studies.

In competitive races since 1996, spending by noncandidate entities, or outside money, has grown to rival and sometimes exceed spending by candidates. How that money is spent has also diversified to include a greater emphasis on nonbroadcast communications. We define outside money to include party soft money, election issue advocacy, independent expenditures, and internal communications.

This book documents all forms of campaign communications in competitive congressional elections in 2002, including soft money and issue advocacy. In addition we include observations made while monitoring spending in a set of noncompetitive control races to establish a baseline against which to compare campaign spending in more highly charged environments.

Much of the research in this book is the result of systematic monitoring of campaigns by knowledgeable academics from within the states or districts in our sample. Our common objective was to better understand the dynamics of campaigns and elections in highly contested environments with substantial campaigning not controlled by candidates. Each academic team created a reconnaissance network of individuals who collected mail and logged phone calls and personal contacts about the election. Data on political mail, phone calls, personal contacts, e-mail, and other contacts were systematically gathered. Local academics also gathered ad-buy data from radio and television stations, including cable stations, in all of our sample and control races. As a supplement to our ad-buy data, we purchased the Campaign Media Analysis Group's (CMAG) data for television advertising in our sample and control races. In addition, the participating academics interviewed scores of local experts, campaign staff, party professionals, and interest-group leaders in their states and districts. Likewise we conducted 134 interviews with party officials, interest-group leaders, and other experts in Washington. As a rule, these interviews were "on the record" and are cited in this book. Our 2002 project also measured voters' reactions to highly competitive campaign environments in comparison to a national baseline survey. In a separate survey voters logged their political mail and campaign contacts and provided us with all their political mail. These surveys enabled us to validate the data collection of the reconnaissance networks and to accurately measure the volume of campaign communications with voters as well as to gauge their reactions to the deluge of mail, phone calls, and in-person contacts. Table 1-1 lists the congressional contests included in our 2002 study and notes the four races in which we did polling on public perceptions of the campaign and the four races in which we asked random samples of voters to record their campaign contacts and forward to us their political mail. For a more detailed description of our methodology for the 2002 studies, including the methodology for our public opinion surveys, see appendix A. For a complete list of national-level elites interviewed for this study, see appendix B.

This book builds upon similar collaborative research efforts in 1998 and 2000. In the aggregate we have now monitored eighty-one congressional general elections or presidential primary contests in 1998, 2000, and 2002. Having collected data on the full range of campaign communications over three cycles allows us to identify trends and broader patterns. A systematic monitoring of campaign finance in 2002 was important because the 2002 election marked potentially the last hurrah for soft money and at least some interest-group electioneering before the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act takes effect in the 2004 election cycle. The extent to which BCRA changes the campaign finance system depends on what parts of the act survive constitutional challenge, how the law is interpreted during the rule-making process at the FEC and FCC, and the ability of interested parties to find ways to circumvent the act. BCRA has the potential to transform campaign finance in ways that are not yet clear to political operatives, candidates, and scholars.

Outside Money in the 2002 Election

Battleground races once again experienced extraordinary levels of spending, especially by the parties. In ten of the twenty-six competitive races we studied in 2002, noncandidate spending exceeded candidate spending; in one case, the Pennsylvania Seventeenth Congressional District, noncandidate spending more than doubled candidate spending. The candidate spending in these contests is already high, creating a campaign environment where voters face a barrage of political communication. In the South Dakota Senate race, for instance, candidates, parties, and interest groups spent over $24 million, which amounted to $70.50 per voter. This made South Dakota in 2002 one of the most expensive elections in dollars per voter in U.S. history.

The convergence of high levels of candidate, party, and interest-group campaigning again meant that voters faced a barrage of TV and radio ads, mail, and phone calls. Based on a survey we commissioned in the Minnesota Senate race, for example, registered voters received an average of eighteen pieces of mail in the last three weeks of the campaign, and one voter received eighty pieces of political mail.

With outside money, voters often cannot determine the source of the money spent in a race. Party soft-money contributions often come from large donors, many of whom have a vested interest in particular races. Contributing through a political party permits issue activists or interest groups to mask their identity while still targeting money to a particular race. With issue advocacy it is even more difficult to know who is funding the communication.

Noncandidate campaigns are highly professional, using pollsters, field staff, and media, telephone, and mail consultants. Many interest groups and their political action committees have long retained professional pollsters and other campaign professionals. But in 1996, as parties and groups started to mount issue advocacy campaigns, they significantly expanded their investment in consultants of all types.

Tone and Volume of Outside-Money Advertising

In the competitive races where candidates, parties, and interest groups all participate, the tone of the campaign is more likely to be negative. The primary source of this negativity is the outside money because of "an implicit division of labor, with outside money used to attack one candidate or the other in hope of helping the favored candidates." As Kathleen Hall Jamieson has observed, "Candidates don't have to attack because others will do it for them." Mark Mellman, an experienced pollster, concurs that money spent by outside groups "increases the negative tone of races," and in his view "the public blames the candidates." In surveys conducted in cooperation with a bipartisan panel of pollsters, we found that voters in battleground environments blame the parties and interest groups for the greater negativity in campaigns. We review the tone of party and interest-group advertisements in chapters 2 and 3 and the voter survey results in chapter 12.

Mike Lux, who helped design the hate-crimes ad run by the NAACP Voter Fund against George W. Bush in 2000, said that in 2002 both parties started being more "aggressive with the truth," operating on the assumption that campaigns "weren't going to get called on it." Lux believes that the media are playing a less active role in commenting on the accuracy and fairness of ads, including issue ads. However, ads were challenged by opposing candidates and parties in 2002 and some were pulled. In Indiana's Second District in early September 2002, the Indiana Democratic Party ran an ad claiming that Republican candidate Chris Chocola held "Enron values" rather than "Hoosier values" and showing the Enron logo. After Chocola made formal complaints, the television stations decided to pull the ad. Soon thereafter the NRCC ran an ad for Chocola, asserting that "Long Thompson had voted to cut the military, opposed stopping Saddam Hussein, and had taken money from a radical group that opposes the war on terror." Again the television stations pulled the ad. This practice also occurred in 2000. The assertion that groups have broad leeway in their independent communications is not new. In 1980 National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC) founder John Terry Dolan once bragged that his organization "could lie through its teeth and the candidate it helps stays clean."

Absent some assessment as to the truthfulness of party and interest-group ads, voters are left to the constant charges and countercharges of the candidates, parties, and groups about the other side being misleading or untruthful. As discussed in chapter 12, voters have a variety of reactions to these high-intensity campaigns. Their awareness of the campaign is heightened, but this interest does not necessarily lead to higher turnout. When faced with daunting volumes of political communication, voters are more likely to indicate that they have seen too much mail and advertising, are less likely to view the campaigns as "fair" or "accurate," and are more likely to view the campaign as more negative compared to recent political contests. Under these conditions voters turn to trusted sources of information such as family and friends, groups they affiliate with, or objective sources like newspapers or television news.

The Growing Importance of the Ground War

Outside-money campaigns in 1996 were primarily run on television and radio, but since then they have been increasingly diversified to include direct mail, live and recorded telephone calls, personal persuasion (face to face), and get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts. This shift to less reliance on broadcast advertising and increased use of ground-war tactics continued in 2002.

The 2002 case studies demonstrate the importance of the ground war, paid for with outside money, to voter activation and mobilization efforts. Both parties and several allied groups waged expanded ground-war campaigns. Republicans, pointing to the successes of the Democrats and their interest-group allies in voter mobilization in 1998 and 2000, invested heavily in voter mobilization in 2002. The Republican National Committee (RNC), under the leadership of the White House, initiated the 72 Hour Task Force, and the Republican leadership in the House initiated the Strategic Taskforce to Organize and Mobilize People (STOMP).


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Table of Contents

1The Importance of Outside Money in the 2002 Congressional Elections1
2Party Money in the 2002 Congressional Elections36
3Interest-Group Electioneering in the 2002 Congressional Elections63
4Get On TeleVision vs. Get On The Van: GOTV and the Ground War in 200290
5From Intensity to Tragedy: The Minnesota U.S. Senate Race117
6Battle for the Bases: The Missouri U.S. Senate Race137
7The More You Spend, the Less They Listen: The South Dakota U.S. Senate Race159
8Strings Attached: Outside Money in Colorado's Seventh District180
9Incumbent vs. Incumbent in Connecticut's Fifth District205
10When Incumbents Clash, Fundamentals Matter: Pennsylvania Seventeen225
11When Redistricting Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry: Utah's Second District241
12The Consequences of Noncandidate Spending, with a Look to the Future258
AStudying the Noncandidate Campaign: Case Study and Survey Methodology281
BInterviews Conducted by CSED Researchers299

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