NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

McCain- Feingold's Unintended Consequences

April 3, 2001

A number of political analysts fear that if the McCain-Feingold bill -- which passed the Senate yesterday -- becomes law, it will have consequences alarming even to its supporters.

Besides weakening political parties, here is what critics fear is in store for the American political system.

  • With less money to spend, candidates will increase the negativity of attack ads -- since these normally create the strongest impression on voters.
  • The loss of "soft money" will force candidates to spend more time fund raising -- at the expense of boning up on issues, consulting experts, talking to voters and debating opponents.
  • Campaign-finance reform is likely to force candidates to start campaigning earlier than they already do -- leading to the era of the permanent campaign.
  • Given that the bill forces TV stations to run ads at the cheapest possible rate, candidates will place more emphasis on television -- at the expense of grassroots activities.

There are other costs to democracy, as well.

  • Less money for ads equals less information for voters -- since studies have substantiated that voters learn far more about issues and candidates from paid political ads than they do from press coverage of campaigns, which tends to focus on who will win, rather than on issues.
  • Blocked from donating hundreds of thousands in soft money to candidates, wealthy men and women will turn to becoming candidates themselves -- and political parties will embrace them because their campaigns can be self-financed.
  • To help them maneuver through the intricacies of campaign finance, candidates will increasingly turn to lawyers and paid consultants for advice.

Source: Fred Barnes (Weekly Standard), "McCain-Feingold Will Backfire," Wall Street Journal, April 3, 2001.

For text


Browse more articles on Government Issues