The nation's system of campaign regulation is broken This presidential campaign may be the first in which party committees using largely unregulated soft money have bought more television ads than candidates using hard money.
It has been marked, moreover, by record quantities of even less regulated money raised by lobbies and advocacy groups. As a measure of the change over the past four years, consider the research of the Annenberg Public Policy Center. In 1996 the center counted 107 ads paid for with unregulated money, each of which ran many times. A week before the end of Campaign 2000, the center had logged 861 such ads, and the number of groups and party committees paying for them had jumped from 27 to 150.
This transformation means that campaign spending is increasingly channeled not through candidates' coffers but through supposedly independent organizations. As of Oct. 24, candidates' regulated spending accounted for just two-fifths of total spending on TV ads in the presidential race, according to the Brennan Center for Justice in New York. In key House races, the proportion was the same. Only in the Senate races do the candidates' own organizations still account for a majority of the cash flow.
This doesn't mean that candidates are losing control; in many instances, they guide the party committees and even some of the advocacy groups that back them. But the shift does raise afresh the question of whether the regulations that now apply to candidates' finances should also apply to parties and advocacy organizations. The advocacy groups' claim that they are merely educating voters on their issues is not convincing either. The groups' spending is clearly driven by party allegiance rather than mere interest in issues. As of Oct. 24, Citizens for Better Medicare, a pharmaceutical industry front-group, had spent some $6 million to help Republican House candidates and zero to help Democrats; the AFL-CIO had spent $4.5 million to help Democratic House candidates and zero to help Republicans.
This sets up a huge challenge for the next president and Congress. Regulating non-candidate spending will be difficult, and the free-speech concerns are serious. But the nation's system of campaign regulation is broken, and the enthusiasm that greeted Sen. John McCain's primary campaign suggests that people want it mended. Of the two presidential candidates, Vice President Al Gore has promised to make campaign reform his first order of business, whereas Gov. George W. Bush has waffled and stalled on the issue. That is something voters might consider as they go to the polls on Tuesday. -- Washington Post
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