This Is Reform? Predicting the Impact of the New Campaign Financing Regulations

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McCain-style campaign finance regulation isthe new campaign reality. But what exactly willthis reformist utopia look like? Assessing the"reformed" campaign of the future against thestated desires and expectations of the principalcampaign finance regulators and their mediasupporters, this paper predicts the most importantchanges in political campaigning, changesthat will be experienced for the first time duringthe 2003–04 electoral cycle. Those changesinclude the following:

  • The ban on soft money fundraising by thenational parties will make our elections significantlyless competitive.
  • The federal soft money ban will reducevoter turnout by approximately 2 percent
  • As a result of the soft money ban, both theparties and their candidates will lose influence over their own campaigns.
  • The prescribed channeling of third-partyadvertising through political action committees(PACs), paid for only in hard moneydonations, will increase the number ofPACs and the proliferation of PAC-runmicrocampaigns.
  • The severe restrictions on independentadvertising will inadvertently produce bothlonger and more negative campaigns.

Overall, the allegedly reformed campaign ofthe future will be less competitive, less controlledby candidates and their parties, and more influencedby the mainstream media and will involvefewer voters than the typical campaign of today.Most Americans support real campaign financereform, but clearly this is not the future promisedto them by the self-described reformers.

Patrick Basham

Patrick Basham is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute's Center for Representative Government.