Campaign Finance Debate

March 29, 1985

Report Outline
Money and Politics
Coping with Costs
Reforming the Reforms
Special Focus

Money and Politics

Critisms of Election Financing System

The story is told in Washington about a veteran U.S. House member engaged in a campaign debate with a young, reform-minded challenger. “You see my opponent's $500 silk suit,” the challenger barks. “You know who paid for it? The special interest corporations! You see his wife's mink coat? You know who paid for it? The special interest labor unions!” With that, the challenger stalks off to his seat. The old-timer then ambles to the podium and says: “I have to agree with my young friend. In fact, he forgot to mention my two $20,000 Cadillacs sitting in my driveway at home. You know how I paid for them? With special interest money, and lots of it. My question to you is: Do you want a congressman who's bought and paid for, or do you want to start all over again with a new one?”

The story is apocryphal, but its point is not. Money and politics are inextricably linked, mainly because of the large amounts needed to run for federal office these days. Preliminary figures indicate that more than $200 million was spent in the 1984 presidential elections. House and Senate candidates spent about $375 million—nearly 10 percent more than the record $342.4 million spent in 1982.

Except for presidential elections that are financed with public funds, the money used to run federal political campaigns comes from four sources: the candidates' own personal funds, the political parties, individual donations and contributions from political action committees (PACs) set up by labor unions, corporations, associations and ideological groups. By far, individual contributions make up the bulk of most House and Senate candidates' war chests. But the rapid growth of PACs has given rise to charges that elected officials are, indeed, bought and paid for—that the “special interests” have undue influence on elections and how members of Congress vote.

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Mar. 29, 1985  Campaign Finance Debate
Oct. 11, 1974  Campaign Spending in Europe and America
May 03, 1956  Campaign Controls
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Jun. 05, 1946  Campaign Spending and the Law
Apr. 15, 1940  Money in Politics
Jul. 01, 1931  Revision of Federal Corrupt Practices Act
Dec. 01, 1929  The Vare Case
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Aug. 17, 1926  Excessive Expenditures in Election Campaigns
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