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Tuesday, 26 March, 2002, 08:42 GMT
Should US campaign funding be curbed?
US President George Bush has said he will sign a bill to cap gifts of money from corporations and individuals to political parties.

Currently there are no restrictions on the size of cash donations to US political parties and an estimated $498m was donated during the 2000 election campaign.

Supporters of the bill say that it will end politicians' obligations to big business and make them more accountable to American voters.

The unregulated donations are known as 'soft money' and are largely used to fund television advertising. Under the bill, soft money contributions will be limited to $10,000.

Will the reforms encourage more people to take part in the democratic process? Has too much money spoilt political campaigning?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

American people are treated like mushrooms: we are kept in the dark and fed manure. Most are worked too hard to grow culturally. The Arts are denigrated, Sports are glorified. American corporations seek to extend the philosophy of profit throughout the world without regard for the nation of their birth. There is now in the United States an "aristocracy" of more than a million millionaires. Also there exists an aristocracy of "career" politicians whose children become politicians. Where is the hope? Rome went this way. It became too rich.
Joseph Gregoire, USA

The politicians are all just mad because the party is over and they have to all go back to work!
Eric, US

Corruption of democratic government is the key problem in Western society today

Paul Connor, Canada
Corruption of democratic government is the key problem in Western society today. I am glad to see it being addressed in any way. Governments' economic power and assets are delivered into the hands of the business community at cut-rate prices, in return for campaign finance, directorships and much more. This is NOT economic liberalism, you anti-globalisation protesters, no matter what business leaders say! It is a giant corrupt wealth-concentration machine. What we need is more democracy, not less economic freedom. The link some Americans draw between freedom of speech and campaign finance ignores the fact that true liberalism requires guarantees of democracy, even where they constrain freedom slightly. Who would advocate allowing corporations to operate the core functions of government, like the legislature, police or courts? Obviously some restrictions are reasonable, and campaign finance reform provides one such reasonable stricture.
Paul Connor, Canada

An incumbent legislature will never do anything to undermine their own support. This bill is simply 'eye candy' to make the politicians look good. Businesses and politicians will find a way to skirt around this law, if they haven't already.
Justin, USA

It never ceases to amaze me how little voters actually think for themselves. They'll just tow the line and believe any heap of rhetoric passed on by politicians and the media to make them think that some socialist-minded politician, usually incapable of making it for themselves in the real world so they become career politicians where hypocrisy is the norm, actually have some corner stone of legislation to stand up for their concerns. It's one of the biggest lies I think I've heard since the days of Clinton. Wake up, people, this bill isn't just going to limit corporations, it's going to limit special interest groups as well, which we all know are just groups of citizens with similar beliefs and concerns who band together to lobby. This Incumbent Protection Act will simply make it harder for the average Joe to play his part in public politics. To Erik, USA, I couldn't have said it better myself.
Ryan Corcoran, Austin, TX, USA

This is definitely a good bill to pass. It will lessen the influence of oil and arms companies on the President when he is elected, though it would be best if they were limited across the board, still it's a start.
Tom O'D, UK

Real election reform will only come when people stop choosing personalities and start choosing those who are most qualified to do the job

Arri London, EU/US
It is certainly a step in the right direction towards restoring free speech in the US. As it stands, only the people with the most money get anything resembling free speech. However, real election reform will only come when people stop choosing personalities and start choosing those who are most qualified to do the job. This bill won't affect that at all.
Arri London, EU/US

Campaign finance rules currently in place are violated regularly, lawbreakers are almost never prosecuted. Rest assured, funds will continue to find their way to politicians and parties on a quid pro quo basis. Conduits may change but the flow will not be abated. Loophole weasels of both parties are laughing at the new rules. This has been an act performed to give the perception of reform, corrupt public servants need to repent not reform.
J.R. Mackie, USA

This is only half the battle in getting our politicians to do what they are supposed to do. I'm amazed by some of the ways democracy takes hold in Europe: for instance, being able to scrap a parliament and hold emergency elections; holding referenda on a frequent basis to see what the voters really want; and my personal favourite, "Prime Minister's Questions" (it's on C-span on Sunday nights, for my fellow Americans who want to give it a look). Here Tony Blair has to sit in front of the Commons and take a barrage of questions from MPs who truly seem to work for their constituents. Could you imagine George Bush doing this? Tom Daschle would have a blast. The United States might be one of the first federal democratic republics, but there's no harm in improving on it.
Jennifer Ethington, USA

In an ideal world, political parties would be state funded, with NO contributions allowable from private individuals or organised lobbies (unions on the left, business on the right). Can't see it happening though. It would be interesting to see a league table showing how much money the major political parties spend per vote in "developed" countries around the world.
John, England

This is called market saturation and I am sick of it because it squeezes out the small guy who also has something to say

Di Stewart, USA
This isn't about freedom of speech - this is about having the money to buy enough advertising so that all the people hear what you are saying. This is called market saturation and I am sick of it because it squeezes out the small guy who also has something to say. There have been so many viable political candidates who had to drop out of the race because they simply ran out of money. Sure, if corporations want to donate to aid the political process, fine, but they put their money in a common pot, shared by all. The richest person with an influential power base shouldn't win elections - and perhaps this law would be a start.
Di Stewart, USA

"Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech". First Amendment. Looks like someone didn't check the Constitution.
Frank, USA

Sorry to ask this question, but is the US really democratic? Was Bush's presidency valid (let alone legal)? I seriously believe that each time a truly democratic presidential candidate comes to the fore in the US, they are either assassinated or laughed at (much as the UK's politicians laugh at the Lib Dem. party). Food for thought - it should be.
Anon, Europe

I think that this bill is a great step for the US

J.Kerr, England
I think that this bill is a great step for the US. I admire the US system and way of life, yet I have seen that big money essentially runs US politics. This would put the 'people' back into US politics, and may drastically reverse the apathy of many Americans who see the election of presidents, senators and representatives as a far-gone conclusion.
J.Kerr, England

Over here in the UK, we know that the U.S. campaigning is all just a big sucking up popularity contest by families with stacks of money, and nothing to do with the issues or actually fixing the problems with the country and making life better. Don't get me wrong, the UK's not much better - but at least our leadership candidates aren't picked solely on the basis that they have a huge stack of cash sitting around.
Paul Charters, England

I think the state should provide funds to those politicians that demonstrate they have support. If America wants to attract it's best minds into politics, it must ensure the remuneration is comparable with the best of the private sector.
Garth, Zimbabwe

It scares me how much the American political system is the pawn of big business

John Riddoch, Scotland
Please! It scares me how much the American political system is the pawn of big business. Look at recent bills passed by them: Copyright term was extended to 70 years to allow Disney to maintain the Mickey Mouse copyright, the DMCA was pushed through at the behest of corporations, the SSSCA bill is currently being moved through... All of these erode what should be rights of the average American citizen. While I'm in the UK, I have few illusions about what will happen if this kind of behaviour becomes acceptable in the US; they will get inflicted on other countries using either the stick of trade embargoes or the carrot of better trade deals.
John Riddoch, Scotland

It does not matter how many limits are set on donations to political campaigns. Our higher 'elected' offices will continue to be 'bought' by the candidates with the most money, excluding the common man.
Steve, USA

Do I care? No. Perhaps if you were discussing British politics I would comment. Does this really effect/concern the BBC's target readership (UK residents)?
Nick Brown, UK

It's a good idea, but any form of economic contribution to politics is de-facto corruption and should be explicitly forbidden. Instead, government should give grants tied to membership size.
Qafir leTiand, Denmark

That's a fundamental violation of our sacred First Amendment rights

Gary, US
You people are fools. All this bill does is prevent ordinary citizens from buying time on TV or placing ads critical of incumbents. You cannot say 'bad' things about a candidate within 2 months of the election! That's a fundamental violation of our sacred First Amendment rights. The only winners are the big national TV networks, political chat show hosts, and newspaper editors. Who do you think is going to raise all the $2000 per head of hard money? The challengers or the incumbents? This is a cynical deal made by politicians to muzzle the people and stay in office. Oh, by the way, McCain inserted a little extra provision to allow candidates to take unlimited soft money from Indian the ones in Arizona with the casinos. Boy, what principle! Oh yeah, this little attack on the Constitution doesn't apply to the next elections so they can all run right out and call the Teachers unions, the Teamsters, the movie industry, or whatever special interest group that they can get to fill up that war chest in the near term. How can people be so deluded about this?
Gary, US

President Bush signed the bill, though he stated that many parts were "flawed". Most Americans favour some form of campaign reform. This bill, however, is more about the right to communicate (free speech) and the abrogation of one of the rights granted to Americans by the Bill of Rights. The only winners in this bill, which will be struck down as unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court on several points, are incumbent politicians who want to hold onto their power and the liberal press, which may say anything - lie, exaggerate, profile, etc.-to curry favour with the Democratic political machines in power in the large cities of our country. I invite our world readers to visit, our nation's top-rated radio commentator, to get a realistic view of this bill. In polls, his views are generally what the average educated American is in agreement with.
Thomas, Chicago, USA

I'm relatively pleased that there is an effort being made to combat the corruption in campaign financing. However, I'm sure there are big corporations out there forming special committees at this moment, trying to work out all the little loopholes before the next election. I haven't heard anything about controlling the "hard" money. So I'm guessing that's where the loopholes will be. Welcome to The United Corporations of America. Where big conglomerates rip off the citizens, strip them of their rights, gobble up their resources, pollute their land, and then use taxpayers' money to repair the damages. I guess I'm too cynical to get overly excited over this reform bill. But I suppose it's a start.

Money doesn't get you elected - votes get you elected, money is just a way to influence voters

Martin, England, UK
Money doesn't get you elected - votes get you elected, money is just a way to influence voters. So, the core problem is not contributions to political parties per say. It is the fact that voters are taken in by the glitz. Simply put, if voters paid attention and voted on substance, not style, based their decisions on practicalities, not propaganda, then the contributions would fall off dramatically by themselves. Ask yourself, "Is your vote for sale today?"
Martin, England, UK

This bill is definitely worth passing. For the past millennium we have been dictated by two political parties that do not seem to be competent. It's about time that parties, such as the Green Party, can have an equal chance.
Derek Woods, USA

I can assure you that any "reform" will guarantee the incumbent a job for life.
Colin Butts, USA

Any steps taken to curb corruption are good, certainly, but there is a much more direct solution for the American voter: know the issues, know the candidates, and stop being impressed by clever slogans, pretty pictures and meaningless TV commercials. Maybe that's too much to hope for?
C. Neron, US

Every time campaign finance is "reformed" by incumbents, guess what? - incumbents solidify their power

Erik, USA
Every time campaign finance is "reformed" by incumbents, guess what? - incumbents solidify their power. Incumbents already have nearly free press access due to their notoriety (office) and taxpayer-funded franking privileges.

We have an aristocracy of perpetual politicians, rather than electing citizen legislators. With H. Clinton in the Senate, this ruling class is no longer even tied to its geographic constituency but cantered in the new imperial Rome. It would be nice if Joe Sixpack were able to break the power of the Kennedy's and political bosses, but if he can't, at least let the occasional plutocrat try - he may not be my peer, but at least he'd be new and perhaps more circumspect in his power. Great evil comes from those who are secure in their power. I say free the process of contributing to individual candidates (parties/factions easily fall under "bosses" like we have in Chicago and the ones that famously screwed up the election in Dade and West Palm Counties).

Don't abolish free speech, return to the American ideal of limited government (sovereign individuals)! Then there would be less temptation to 'buy' elections.
Erik, USA

The passage of this bill is a step in the right direction, but it will always be a challenge to balance the right to political expression against the need for elected officials who are free from corruption or the mere appearance of corruption.
Scott, USA

Shouldn't this bill have been incorporated into the American constitution when their "democracy" was first established? So, even though citizens get to vote, it ultimately depends on who (multi-billion dollar corporations) chips in the most. I always said democracy was simply a word found in the dictionary, and a clever tactic to quell the masses by making them think that they have a say. Now this is the proof. At least they're taking half a step in the right direction.
Wisdom, Australia

Everyone talks about curbing corporations but the unions are as bad if not worse. Let's hope this is just the first step in the right direction.
Jim, USA

Putting caps on soft money donations restricts free speech

Wade, USA
Putting caps on soft money donations restricts free speech. In addition to limiting soft money contributions, this campaign finance reform bill does not allow any criticism of incumbents two months before an election. This will slam the door on most people trying to enter politics by protecting those already in power. This point will be brought before the Supreme Court before too long, where the bill may be found unconstitutional.
Wade, USA

Reading this page, it sounds to me that most are cynical of politic's relationship with capitalism, but many also admit to being powerless to do anything about it. Just think of that next time you proudly exclaim that you live in a democracy! If the demos, (people), want direct power then all you got to do is take it! It does after all rightly belong to all of us?
Dave, UK

It is about time the elected leaders took this matter seriously. Let's see how long it will be before another law is needed to stop all the loopholes. At least an attempt is being made despite its effectiveness.
Brian, US

Much ado about nothing. Nothing has changed, except the politician can beat upon his breast. A new rule simply means 100 new loopholes and a thousand new institutions. One cannot regulate expenditures on advertising in a nation which protects free speech.
George Milton, USA and Italy

If money flows to one candidate rather than another what business is it of the government?

A dreadful idea by two of the most pompous members of an already over-pompous Senate. If money flows to one candidate rather than another what business is it of the government? Freedom of speech should mean that political candidates, like everyone else, should be able to get their message to the people any way they can. What is so wrong with business that it is presumed to be in constant cahoots to turn all legislation in its favour. If Americans had half a wit, which I doubt, they could recognize bad governance and toss the bums where they belong. They should start with both McCain and Feingold.

It does state in the Declaration of Independence, that politicians are supposed to pledge their lives, fortunes and sacred honour to the cause! I fail to see how campaign reform will do more than cutting noses off despite faces!!
BJ Pinkerton, USA

Here in the US the principle has always been, "one dollar, one vote." I have faith that the US Supreme Court will strike down any challenge to this rule. Tom Donaly
Thomas Donaly, USA

Of course, of course, like everything else in America it is spoiled by too much free money. Limit the donation amounts to the politicians and maybe they won't be so blasť about allowing marketing companies to use and abuse people's privacy. It might even turn America into a semi-sensible country and away from one that is powered by greed, advertising and insurance companies.
Kevin B., Brit in USA

I have no doubt that, in the course of time, the federal courts will throw this legislation out

Ray Hanson, USA
The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States is a fundamental guarantee of freedom of speech in our country. This law violates, mutilates both the spirit and the letter of this amendment. I have no doubt that, in the course of time, the federal courts will throw this legislation out and shame the drooling twits who foisted it upon us.
Ray Hanson, USA

This bill allows "hard money" caps to be doubled compared to previous limits, only "soft money" is reduced. Also the part of this bill which blatantly violates our right to free speech virtually assures incumbents to remain in office, for the 30 and 60 day "blackout periods" will stifle the views of challengers far more than the incumbents. Once the special interests adapt to the new law, this bill will indeed increase the influence special interests have, not reduce it and make the system even more corrupt than ever.
Stephen, USA

When I vote for a politician I want him or her to work exclusively for me; that means, for the voter and taxpayer. Politicians should not be allowed to accept money from anyone else.
Manu, Belgium

No matter how many laws you pass money will find its way into politics

Paul M. Neville, Jackson, MS, USA
As the former chairman of Common Cause in Mississippi I've had some experience in campaign finance reform. Trust me no matter how many laws you pass money will find its way into politics because of the prohibitive cost of TV. The only solution is for the people to learn they have a duty to contribute as well as a duty to vote.
Paul M. Neville, Jackson, MS, USA

The McCain-Feingold bill will significantly improve the current situation. However I am sure that with the passage of time the lobbies and lobbyists will find methods to bypass the law and once again exert pressure on US legislators. You just wait!
Mirek Kondracki, USA

This is fantastic news. It is about time that ethics and intellect governed this planet, and not cash. America has deluded its people that they are living in a democracy, when we all know, the man in the street has no power at all. I lived there 10 years and witnessed this.
Alex, England

How about going back to ancient Greek ideals where the citizens turned up for every issue and had a show of hands? With today's technology this should be possible electronically, but as it would erode the position of politicians I suspect it will never happen.
Jo, Canada

A victory for the common man we can all be proud of

Keith Cuiper, Denver, USA
I am thrilled about the long awaited passage of this bill. We Americans are in desperate need of campaign finance reform to protect our democracy. Senators Feingold and McCain deserve a lot of praise for their perseverance. Finally, a victory for the common man we can all be proud of.
Keith Cuiper, Denver, USA

The situation is so bad that I suppose it's worth trying something, I suppose. But I will withhold judgement about this new law until I see it put in practice for a few election cycles (assuming it isn't nullified by the courts before then). In all likelihood, this measure will increase the advantage of incumbency and increase the influence of wealthy individuals. The poor and working class won't be able to afford $2000 contributions, but the wealthy will be able to contribute twice the current $1000 limit.
Howard, USA

I am a resident of New York City and was shocked when Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire media mogul, spent $75 million of his own money to become mayor of New York City. In my opinion, such legislation was long overdue. Cheers to Senator John McCain for helping make this happen.
Christian Gough, USA

Al stated, "Companies answer to consumers". Give me a break! Who do you think creates the demand through their constant advertising? Corporations rule, and I seriously doubt that campaign finance reform will put any damper on their manipulation.
Richard, USA

Companies ultimately answer to consumers

The invisible hand of market forces dictates everything in America because it is a free-market driven democracy. Everything I consume, from food to entertainment to the government itself is dictated and manipulated by companies. But companies ultimately answer to consumers whose preferences influence the actions of companies. Demand creates supply.

An excellent plan from a surprising source. Good fallout from Enron?
Kate, UK

It is definitely a great principle but I doubt that it will prevent cash for favours or any of the corporate corruption present in America's political system. The 'democracy' of the American political system is always paying favour to the friends and relatives of particular corporate conglomerates to the point of oligarchy. Only when the masses are represented by an unbounded president will policy be directed for the good of the people rather than corporate success.
Phil, UK

This legislation will kill off many of those backroom deals

Michael Boh, Los Angeles, US
I'm thrilled that Congress finally took action after so many bad people blocked this progressive legislation for so many years. Good can win in the end. Despite all objections, mostly by Republicans (secretly backed by Bush) this legislation will level the playing field and kill off many of those backroom deals that had little input from the honest electorate. Democracy works if good people act.
Michael Boh, Los Angeles, US

Big business, commercialism and money will always have a huge influence on US politics, so why bother?
Matt, UK

I'm sick of our government catering to the corporations

Regina, US
I definitely think that this is a good idea. I'm sick and tired of our government catering to the corporations at the expense of the average citizen.
Regina, US

See also:

21 Mar 02 | Americas
US campaign cash curbs to become law
14 Feb 02 | Americas
Q&A: Campaign funding reform
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