THE DEMCROCRATS WON THE BIGGEST ROUND in Election '86, and they did it in spite of having to operate at a huge disadvantage to the Republicans. The Grand Old Party does not have any lock on virtue, they just have money--five times as much as the Dems in the '86 Senate races.
Money was king in an election won and lost on 30 second television spots. In the last decade the amount of money spent on Congressional campaigns has risen astronomically. Increased campaign costs are both a cause and an effect of the changing character of U.S. electoral politics. But until the influence of money is curtailed by public financing laws for congressional elections, the trend will continue toward an electorate controlled by rich interests which are able to manipulate the voting marketplace.
Money can can skew democracy. The ideal behind the one-man, one-vote credo--that every citizen should have an equal input--falls in the face of interests which are able to manipulate candidates through large make-or-break contributions.
The rise in campaign costs is due largely to the increased use of television advertisements in campaigns. Television spots are expensive, but also effective. The power of these ads has made it extraordinarily difficult for poorly financed candidates to run a viable campaign. This leaves many potential candidates out in the cold. Of course, there is a lot of money out there to finance campaigns. But as that money becomes more crucial to candidates, the groups and people who dispense it become increasingly influential.
Public financing of congressional campaigns would not only open the field to candidates without big money connections, but also would lessen the significance of Political Action Committees and influential donors for those candidates who do rely on them. As in the public financing laws regulating presidential campaigns, such a measure would include matching funds provided by a checkoff on income tax returns and a cap on total expenditures.
Public financing is just one of a number of important reforms to the electoral process. Something has to be done about the increasingly large amounts of money spent by third parties to evade campaign financing laws. And ultimately the voters will have to show candidates that they care about more than just media packaging. But the first step and the most important one toward putting issues back into electoral politics is getting the money out.