Effectiveness of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (2002)
After a seven-year struggle by congressional sponsors to amend the Federal Campaign Law, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) was finally enacted on March 27, 2002 after signing by president. This is concerned with the eradication of corruption that was formerly perpetrated by political parties during the electioneering process. Political parties in America today play different roles, from member recruitment to advocacy of political issues. These therefore need money for successful execution of their roles. Most parties have solicited for money from different sources, including corporations and individuals. However, a ban on “soft money” in 2002 brought changes in the role of money in political campaigns. This paper addresses the objectives and consequences of BCRA, and its effectiveness or ineffectiveness, basing on a variety of events in the political arena today.
The main objectives of the BCRA are to restrict the use of corporate and union funds in federal elections, and control of communication in electioneering. Therefore, a ban on “soft money” and the controlled political advertisements are major concerns of BCRA. This is all in an effort to regulate the escalating cost of campaigns, and reduce corruption in electioneering. Wallison & Gora (2009) argue that raising of large sums of money by candidates has a corrupting influence in politics, and on the candidates’ policies. The opponents of this reform however, argue that large amounts of money are needed to fund the candidates’ campaign expenditures, as well as to hold meaningful political debates at the national level. Whether this law is seen in negative or positive light, what remains is that it has changed the way politics are played in America today. Smith argues that political parties need more money, and not less, in their campaigns. He also considers the electioneering communication restriction in BCRA as a violation of constitutional right of freedom of expression (Smith, 2003).
The greatest determinant of the effectiveness of the BCRA is the emerging role of non-profit groups in the post BCRA political environment. The 2004 campaign was the first to be under the influence of BCRA. It is evident that the BCRA did not make political parties starve due to lack of finances. Surprisingly, the national political parties raised more hard money in 2003, than they did in both soft and hard money in 1999. The Democratic and Republican parties raised a sum of $371 million in hard money alone in the first year of post BCRA era, as compared to $266 million, a sum of both hard and soft money in the 2000 campaign period, before the BCRA. Today, the Republican Party raises more hard money than the Democratic Party. Nonetheless, both parties have increased their sum of hard money raised over years past the BCRA. Due to the restrictions by BCRA, Political Parties have maximized their money raising capabilities from the PACs and from individuals. This shows that the BCRA has not been effective in regulating the amount of money political parties acquire for their campaigns. BCRA’s restriction on soft money has made parties go for an alternative of hard money, which the parties can source from unrestricted sources. Political Parties today have turned to a large numbers of small donors, rather than a small number of large soft money (Malbin, 2003)
BCRA has seen a significant reduction of soft money spent in electioneering. Different analyses have shown that today in the post BCRA era, it is quite hard to make soft money contributions. Today, there are no links between the electioneering non-profit groups, officeholders, and candidates. Before the BCRA, party officials directly connected the large soft money contributors and the public officials in whom they were interested. Soft money contributions were offered in exchange for access to officeholders and candidates. This situation served as the grounds for the U.S Supreme Court to ban soft money. Today, after the BCRA, non-profit groups do not have access to officeholders and so cannot make their soft money contributions. This way, the BCRA takes credit for the change (Samples, 2005).
Failure of BCRA to emphasize on disclosure requirements for non-profit groups has presented many loopholes. The disclosure requirements of non-profit groups today are weak, untimely, and poorly enforced. The information is not availed easily for public access through the internet, but can only be availed upon request. In addition, the nature of the financial disclosure forms for non-profit groups cannot guarantee discernment of electioneering activities by these electioneering bodies. Therefore, this presents loopholes for underground campaign activities, and proves BCRA ineffective. BCRA needs to clarify its disclosure requirements for non-profits and enforce these requirements (Katkin, 2004).
Conclusively, it is a fact that both political candidates and their parties need money in order to run their campaigns. They also need to express and sell their agendas to the public, during their campaigns. However, owing to the negative issues that emerge during the electioneering process, the Federal Government enacted the BCRA in order to regulate electioneering. This Act has registered success, as well as failures in its objectives. For instance, the links between electioneering non-profit groups, officeholders, and candidates has been cut, therefore reducing the possibility of soft money contributions. However, parties have sought the alternative of hard money from numerous small donors. Therefore, they accumulate even more money than before the BCRA. In addition, regulation of electioneering communication is viewed today as a violation of freedom of speech. Nonetheless, no policy can attain perfection. BCRA just needs to employ more clarity in its requirements, and use a little more force in its enforcement.
Katkin, K. (2004). Campaign Finance Reform After Federal Election Commission V. Mcconnell. Northern Kentucky Law Review; Symposium Issue (31:3): 233-375.
Malbin, J. (2003). Life After Reform: When the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act Meets Politics. USA: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Samples, C. ( 2005). Welfare for Politicians?: Taxpayer Financing of Campaigns. USA: Cato Institute.
Smith, A. (2003). Unfree Speech: The Folly of Campaign Finance Reform. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
Wallison, P., & Gora, J. (2009). Better Parties, Better Government: A Realistic Program for Campaign Finance Reform. Washington, D.C: AEI Press.
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