Controversy has already erupted over the financing of the 2008 presidential campaign with experts projecting costs to exceed $1 billion (Sciffman). Candidate Hillary Clinton raised $8.5 million during only three events, surpassing the old record set in 2004 by John Edwards, who collected $7.4 million in three months (McAuliff). Vast amounts of money is being spent and raised on campaigns, and efforts to curb fundraising and spending have had only limited effects. Serious questions are being asked about money’s effects on candidates, presidents and democracy. According to a nonpartisan, online poll, 49% of people believe the issue of corruption should be a high priority for Congress (Government and Politics). The questionable fundraising methods used to collect enormous sums of money have lead the public to lose confidence and respect of those involved in the political and electoral process. The government is responsible for maintaining the right to political speech and association as mandated by the Constitution, in addition to preventing corruption and preserving public trust in electoral process. The views and beliefs held by proponents and opponents are equally at odds, and will continue to influence the regulation of campaign finance until the system represents the ideals of the democratic process. Within the current system, a dichotomy exists between highly regulated areas such as contribution limits and highly unregulated areas including soft money and issue advocacy.
As early as 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt recognized the need for campaign finance reform. Congress responded by banning all corporate contributions with the enactment of the Tillman Act and in 1947, the Taft-Hartley Act similarly banned unions from using their treasuries to contribute to political candidates. Congress later passed the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), which was intended to close the loopholes in earlier reforms. This bill also created the Federal Election Commission to enforce the legislation requiring full disclosure of campaign contributions in federal elections. In 1974, Congress amended the FECA by imposing contribution limits on both businesses and individuals. These laws are based on the concern that the unwarranted influence of money directly interferes with the nation’s values of democracy and equal participation in the political process (Federal Campaign Finance Law).
When examining the role of the government in situations of participation in political processes, the role as the protector of rights and privileges as identified in the Constitution must be weighed against its role as a regulator of the political process. A primary principle of the First Amendment is to protect and encourage the rights of individuals and organizations to participate in our civic process (Federal Campaign Finance Law). This right to be involved in the political system is an important privilege and should not be taken lightly. Any campaign finance reform must be structured within the framework of the Constitution.
Disclosure requirements are observed as means to deter corruption by requiring that contributions made to elected officials and candidates are made public in federal elections. Disclosure allows voters to make up their own minds based on the information that is placed before them. Supreme Court Justice Louis Dembitz Brandeis believes, “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants, electric light the most efficient policeman” (Brandeis, 97). Brandeis’ statement laid the groundwork of the Sunlight Foundation, which was founded on the idea that utilizing new technology to facilitate citizens with information concerning Congress, will lead to the reduction of corruption, ensure greater government accountability, and establish public trust. The Sunlight Foundation claims that by, “providing timely online access to information...
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