NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Europe's Lessons For The U.S. On Campaign Finance Reform

March 26, 2001

European countries have tough restrictions on the amount of private money that can be spent on campaigns. Experts say that as the Senate debates the McCain-Feingold bill, which would add more restrictions on political contributions in the U.S., Americans and their political leaders should consider why Europe's laws have failed to prevent political corruption and sleaze.

  • Cutting back on campaign spending has resulted in boring elections in Europe -- so lackluster, in fact, that electoral turnout has been going downhill.
  • Stigmatizing private donations to parties has had the inevitable effect of making candidates more dependent on government money.
  • That has led to scandals which have wrecked, or badly tarnished, the reputations of a number of otherwise able politicians over the past 15 years -- and degraded the profession of politics in the public's eyes.
  • Among the victims are the late French President Francois Mitterrand and former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

Campaign finance costs in the U.S. are not wildly out of control, as has been charged. In real terms, presidential campaign receipts and disbursements of congressional candidates have increased only 39 percent since 1987-88 -- or a total of 0.006 percent of GNP.

Source: Niall Ferguson (Oxford University), "The Case Against McCain-Feingold," Wall Street Journal, March 26, 2001.


Browse more articles on Government Issues