NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 23, 2005

The Senate Rules Committee recently voted out a bill that would subject 527 groups to some of the same soft-money restrictions that apply to party committees. The change was portrayed by many of its advocates as little more than a technical adjustment to the existing campaign finance rules.

This is no mere tweak. The 527 question brings campaign finance law face to face with a choice it hoped never to have to make. Congress and the country are on the brink of deciding between unlimited contributions in politics or unlimited regulation of politics, says Jonathan Rauch, writing in the National Journal.

According to the Campaign Finance Institute:

  • Contributions to 527 groups more than doubled between 2002 and 2004, to $405 million.
  • Most of the money came from individuals; 70 percent of the total came from just 52 people who gave between $1 and $24 million.

Large donations to 527 groups spending money to influence federal elections can buy influence with federal candidates, even if the 527 groups are operating independently. Since such 527 groups are spending money to elect federal candidates, and since the source and amounts of these unlimited contributions are readily available to the candidates, the contributions can buy influence with the federal candidates benefiting from the expenditures by the 527 groups, explains Rauch.

In other words, the problem is not corruption, at least not as traditionally understood; the problem is influence. In yet other words, influence is corruption. And in yet other words, because politics is all about influence, politics is corruption -- at least until all contributions to political causes are so small that politicians won't feel particularly grateful to anybody.

Rauch says we must stop and insist that those who want tighter restrictions on 527s tell us: Where do they propose to stop?

Source: Jonathan Rauch, "Here's A New Campaign Finance Reform Plan: Just Stop," National Journal, May 7, 2005.


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