Current Campaign Finance Laws

Current Campaign Finance Laws

Some Republican lawmakers criticized the McCain-Feingold bill, arguing that it infringed on freedom of speech and also penalized Republican contributors more than Democratic contributors. In 2004, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in McConnell v. Federal Election Commission that most of the McCain-Feingold bill was constitutional, including the bans on soft money and interest group advertisements. In 2006, the Supreme Court ruled in Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc. v. Federal Election Commission that there exists an exception in the McCain-Feingold bill for certain advertisements, namely, "issue ads," (anything other than an ad that only urges the support or defeat of a specific candidate) from the general rule that prohibited broadcasting advertisements that merely mentioned a candidate's name within 60 days of a general election.

Today, campaign finance remains a controversial issue. Critics argue that the McCain-Feingold bill did not go far enough in ending influence peddling in elections. Some argue that the United States should shift to an entirely government-financed campaign system under which each candidate would receive a set amount of money for their campaigns. Such systems exist in many European nations. The 2006 conviction of lobbyist Jack Abramoff on several counts of fraud has strengthened the argument for the federal financing of elections and has underscored the need for reform.

Others believe that campaign contributions are akin to free speech and that individuals should be allowed to support, with their own money, whatever candidates and parties they choose. Restricting campaign finance to government funds, critics argue, would lead to both increased corruption and higher taxes.

In the 2008 race for the presidency, then-candidate Barack Obama famously became the first major party candidate to reject public financing, thereby freeing himself from the restrictions on the amount his campaign could spend in return for public funds. Some view Obama's decision, and subsequent success, as casting into doubt the future of public financing in national elections.

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