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Campaign Finance Reform

March 28, 2001

Yesterday, the Senate rejected Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel’s amendment to merely cap — not ban — unlimited "softmoney" donations to political parties. The 60-40 vote gave proponents of an overhaul in campaign finance laws theirbiggest victory yet.

The vote on the soft money provision was a key test for the McCain-Feingold bill, approved twice in recent years bythe House of Representatives only to die in the Senate.

But before we look at whether any meaningful reform is likely to emerge from a Congress that got elected under thecurrent system, let’s clarify a few terms:

SOFT MONEY goes from an individual or group such as a corporation or union, to a political party.

HARD MONEY goes from a person or political action committee to an individual candidate.

The Supreme Court has upheld limits on hard money contributions but has not addressed legislative attempt to ban softmoney contributions.

A few jurisdictions have also tried to limit spending on campaigns, saying that unless it is capped along withcontributions, elections still advantage the wealthy. So far, the Supreme Court has said campaign spending is a formof free speech protected by the First Amendment and thus, cannot be limited. But a minority on the Supreme Courtdisagrees that money equals speech. They, along with many activists, fear that unless BOTH contributions and spendingare capped, special interests will be able to buy access and influence.


  • John Bonifaz, Executive Director, National Voting Rights Institute.
  • Charles Kolb, President, Committee on Economic Development.
  • Jim Bopp, General Council of the James Madison Center for Free Speech.

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