Campaign money, elections regulations, and the Mass Media form an unfortunate coalition that denies Americans the better government they deserve.” To what extent is this statement accurate?
Campaign money, election regulations, and Mass Media have a large influence on elections by negatively influencing the way that Americans receive their information and how they perceive candidates.
- A powerful California politician once observed that “money is the mother’s milk of politics,” and many people think that our democracy is drowning in it.
Where does campaign money come from?
- Presidential candidates get part of their money from private donors and part from the federal government; congressional candidates get all of their money from private sources.
- In the presidential primaries, candidates raise money from private citizens and interest groups.
- The federal government will provide matching funds, dollar for dollar, for all monies raised from individual donors who contribute no more than $250.
- In the general election, the government pays all the costs (up to a legal limit) of major-party candidates and part of the costs of minor-party candidates (those winning between 5 and 25 percent of the vote).
- Congressional candidates get no government funds; all their money must come out of their own pockets or be raised from individuals, interest groups (PACs), or the political parties.
- Contrary to what many people think, most of that money comes from—and has always come from—individual donors.
What rules govern how it is raised and spent?
- As a result of Nixon’s watergate scandal, a new campaign finance law was created, where individuals could not contribute more than $1,000 to a candidate during any single election.
- The new law created political action committees or PACs and they must have at least 50 members (all of whom enroll voluntarily), give to at least five federal candidates, and must not give more than $5,000 to any candidate in any election or more than $15,000 per year to any political party.
- In addition, the law made federal tax money available to help pay for presidential primary campaigns and for paying all of the campaign costs of a major-party candidate and a fraction of the costs of a minor-party candidate in a presidential general election.
- After the 2000 campaign, a strong movement developed in Congress to reform the reforms of the 1970s. The result was the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002.
- It banned soft money contributions, individual donations were raised from $1k to $2k, and individual expenditures were restricted.
- In McConnell v. Federal Election Commission (2002), the Supreme Court decided to uphold almost all of the law, but in 2007 the ban in corporate and union funding of campaign ads was overturned.
- The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, once enforced, immediately stimulated people to find other ways to spend political money.
What has been the effect of campaign finance reform?
- In the general election for president, money does not make much difference, because both major-party candidates have the same amount, contributed by the federal government.
- During peacetime, presidential elections usually are decided by three things: political party affiliation, the state of the economy, and the character of the candidates.
- In congressional races, however, in general it seems that money does make a decisive difference.
- Regulation of elections has mainly taken the form of legislation involving campaign money.
Federal Election Campaign Act (1974)
- A law passed for reforming campaign finance that created the FEC, provided public financing for primaries and general elections, limited presidential campaign spending, required disclosure, and attempted to limit contributions.
Buckley v. Valeo (1976)
- a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States upheld federal limits on campaign contributions and ruled that spending money to influence elections is a form of constitutionally protected free speech. The court also stated candidates can give unlimited amounts of money to their own campaigns.
Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002
- Banned soft money contributions to national political parties from corporations and unions
- Soft money - funds obtained by political parties that are spent on party activities but not on behalf of a specific candidate
- Limit on individual contributions was raised from$1,000 per candidate per election to $2,000
- “Independent expenditure” by corporations, labor unions, trade associations, and nonprofit organization are sharply restricted
- Cannot use their own money to refer to a clearly identified federal candidate in any advertisement during the 60 days preceding a general election or the 30 days preceding a primary contest
- Supreme Court decided in McConnell v. Federal Election Commission that most of the laws were constitutional
The Mass media
- The influence of the media is increased by the fact that campaigns today have become more focused on the individual than on the party. In order to win primaries, individual candidates seek media attention to gain attention from voters. As a result, do voters hold political power, or has the media simply replaced political parties as the primary force behind candidate selection?
How Do Citizens Connect With Their Government?
- Does the media primarily report politics, or does it shape political events?
- The purpose of a political party convention is to formally nominate a presidential candidate, but of course the party wants to win votes in the general election.
- When politicians play to the media, does the media then control politics?
- Many people today criticize television, radio, newspapers, magazines, and the Internet for unfairly using their power as a major link between citizens and their government.
- Do the media fairly explore issues, or do they impose their own positions?
The Political Influence of the Media
The media can shape government and politics in many ways. Here are a few:
- By influencing political opinions of voters. Not surprisingly, the voting behavior of people who are actively interested in politics is probably not changed by the media. Committed Democrats and Republicans selectively learn what they want to from media sources. However, the media can SWAY people who are uncommitted or have no strong opinion in the first place. Since these voters often decide elections results, the power of media in elections can be substantial.
- By determining the behavior of candidates and officials. Many good politicians have learned that they can succeed — in getting elected and in getting things done — if they know how to use the media. President Franklin Roosevelt was famous for his "FIRESIDE CHATS," in which he soothed the pain of economic depression and war by talking to citizens over the radio. President Ronald Reagan's skills as a film and television actor enabled him to communicate very effectively with American voters. Government officials and candidates for office carefully stage media events and PHOTO OPPORTUNITIES. Critics believe that too much attention is focused on how politicians look and come across on camera, rather than on how good a job they are doing in public service.
- By setting the public agenda. Most Americans learn about SOCIAL ISSUES from print or electronic media. The fact that the media focuses on some issues and ignores others can help set what gets done in government. The government's priorities can be rearranged as a result.
Donna Rice and Gary Hart
Who are these people? Gary Hart had a good chance of becoming President in 1988, but when his affair with Donna Rice was revealed by the press, he was forced to abandon his campaign.
- The media clearly has a great deal of power in American politics today.
- Is that a good or a bad thing for government? From one point of view, the media abuse their power, especially since they are driven by profit motive to give people what they want, not necessarily what they need.
- On the other hand, perhaps the media serves as an important player in a modern "checks and balances" system.
- Reporters function as "WATCHDOGS" to be sure that Presidents, Representatives, and Justices do not abuse their powers.