Campaign Finance Vouchers

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One of the various innovative proposals for campaign finance reform that have been floating around over the years is the idea of a campaign voucher, proposed in the “Our Democracy, Our Airwaves” Act sponsored by John McCain, Russ Feingold, and Dick Durbin in the Senate. Each congressional and presidential candidate would be given a predetermined number of vouchers that could then be exchanged with television and radio stations for advertising time. Naturally, there have been a lot of theoretical arguments back and forth about the voucher proposal, but no one has ever shown what practical effects they would actually have, until now. The Campaign Finance Institute just released a study )pdf) that analyzed campaign finance data and tried to figure out what sort of effect these vouchers might have. The results?

  • Challengers who received less than 45 percent of the vote in 2000, 2002, and 2004 would have received, on average, between one and two additional percentage points of the vote with vouchers. Challengers who received more than 45 percent of the vote and open seat candidates would not, on average, receive a significant boost in vote share from vouchers.
  • Almost all candidates who are even slightly competitive would have qualified for vouchers. Most highly competitive candidates would have received the maximum amount.
  • Approximately one-third of candidates who spent too much of their own money to qualify for vouchers would have been better off with vouchers.
  • Hm, so it doesn’t seem like this proposal would change the actual electoral results very much, though it would improve competitiveness, which is in theory good. (If anything, it forces incumbents to move to the center.) Although, the study’s authors note that vouchers could produce a “snowball” effect in primaries, which could have an effect on fundraising, and that make races more competitive.

    On the other hand, perhaps it’s wrong to worry too much about improving competitiveness in races and we should instead worry more about simply improving both communication and accountability. In that sense, the vouchers seem to work well. Plus, there are all sorts of other considerations that aren’t tested. Perhaps vouchers would encourage different candidates to run—that is, the ability to raise a lot of money on one’s own would become less important in a candidate. And vouchers could well decrease the influence of large donors.

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    SIX TRUTHS

    Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

    Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

    Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

    Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

    Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

    Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

    Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

    Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

    And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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