NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

One Way To Reduce Campaign Costs

January 17, 2001

There is a simple way to reduce the cost of campaigning for office and the influence of money on candidates -- the stated goal of campaign finance reformers -- as well as reduce the distance between members of Congress and the people they represent.

That would be to increase the size of the U.S. House of Representatives to 1,000 seats. While not taking the idea as seriously as columnist Robert Novak and NCPA Senior Fellow Bruce Bartlett, George Will notes that representatives, whom the Founders intended to represent smaller numbers than senators, now represent more people than most senators did in the Founders' era.

Today's number of representatives, 435, is not written into the Constitution; it was set by a 1911 statute, which can be changed by a majority of both Houses and the president. The House has had 435 members since 1912 (except briefly after Alaska and Hawaii became states in 1959, when there were 437 representatives until after the 1960 census).

  • The first Congress had 65 representatives for about 3.9 million Americans, one for every 60,000.
  • Not until 1860 did the ratio top one for every 100,000.
  • In 1910, the ratio of representatives to citizens was one for every 212,999.
  • Today, the ratio is one for every 646,947 Americans.
  • If there were 1,000 representatives today, the ratio would be one for every 281,000, about what it was in 1930.

With smaller districts, candidates could campaign as candidates did in the pre-broadcasting era, door to door, meeting by meeting. Hence, there would be less need for money, most of which now buys TV time.

The arguments for enlargement point to possible connections between institutional attributes and the tone and quality of representative government, which, as the president-elect repeatedly has said, has room for improvement.

Source: George Will, "Congress Just Isn't Big Enough," Washington Post, January 14, 2001.


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