Should government limit campaign contributions and spending, and if so, can Americans achieve genuine campaign finance reform without jeopardizing freedom of expression?

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  1. Many blame money from “special interests” and large donations. Small donations from the general public, on the other hand, are considered acceptable. Where do you draw the line between contributions from wealthy special interests and the general public?
  2. Are wealthy donors entitled to special access to government? If so, is this democratic?How can it be prevented?
  3.  Are campaign contributions bribes? Are they a form of extortion? Are they both? Are they neither?
  4.  What are the pros/cons of having a system where the government pays for campaigns and eliminates these fundraising and spending issues?
  5. Arguments in favor of contribution and spending limits include:
  •  Wealthy individuals, unions, corporations, and interest groups use political contributions to advanced their own legislative agendas, undermining the will of the people.
    • Wealthy contributors may actually determine who is elected to office.
    • The need to raise large amounts of money may discourage qualified persons from running for office.
    Resources:
    • Preoccupation with money-raising may keep office holders from doing their jobs.
    • The Clean Money Campaign Reform, which is in force in Arizona, Massachusetts,
    Vermont and Maine. Under the system, candidates who raise a high number of small contributions from voters in their districts or states receive public subsidies for primary and general elections. Learn more at NOW with Bill Moyers: The Clean Election Movement.
    • A bill to revise public financing of Presidential campaigns introduced by Senators John McCain and Russ Feingold on November 21, 2003.

a)See Democracy 21: Summary of Presidential Funding Act of 2003 Bill.

b)See also CNN: Lawmakers Seek Overhaul of Presidential Public Financing.

Arguments against limits on campaign contributions and spending include:

  1. Placing caps on campaign spending is an unconstitutional limit on freedom of speech.
  2. Spending limits could prevent lesser-known challengers from getting their message out.
  3.  Attempts to reform campaign financing often create new problems. Examples: 1) The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 created Political Action Committees (PACs),
    which generated even higher levels of campaign spending by interest groups. 2) To avoid provisions of BCRA, wealthy donors are giving huge sums to independent organizations that engage in political activities.
  4. Campaign reform can be achieved by relying on complete disclosure of fund sources rather than spending limits or public financing of political campaigns.
  5. Resources:
    • National Center for Policy Analysis: Campaign Finance Reform

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