By Heather Danforth
Some legislators are crossing party lines, but they”re not necessarily agreeing, as senators prepare to debate the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2001 later this month.
The reform act, also called the Shays-Meehan bill, has already passed in the U.S. House of Representatives. Issues in the bill are stirring up controversy all over the country, including at BYU.
If passed, the bill will make three main changes in the way election candidates finance their campaigns. First, it will raise the limits of individuals” donations to candidates from $1,000 per year per candidate to $2,000 per year. This will make available to candidates more hard money, which is subject to more regulation than soft money.
Second, soft money, which is money donated to the political party for party-building activities, will no longer be allowed to fund political advertisements or other campaign expenses.
Finally, the bill bans issue advocacy – advertisements during the 30 days before a primary election and during the 60 days before a general election. These ads, funded by corporate or union treasury money, focus on issues, without using certain words that encourage voters to support or oppose a specific candidate.
These ads are currently allowed with little or no regulation, said David Magleby, dean of the College of Family, Home and Social Science, under the assumption that they are not about specific candidates, but are about the issues in a candidate”s platform. They are allowed because they do not use magic words, such as “vote for” or “oppose.”
However, Magleby said, many voters can”t tell the difference, before an election, between these ads and those paid for with hard money intended to specifically support or oppose a candidate.
“The reality was that they were about an election,” rather than an issue, Magleby said.
The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act is designed to limit the power of special interest groups, corporations and other wealthy organizations in politics.
Opinions on the bill differ at BYU. Brian Chapman, 22, a junior from Garden Grove, Calif., majoring in political science and vice-chairman of Utah College Republicans, said banning issue advocacy ads before an election is a violation of free speech.
“While it is a good overall ideal to reform campaign financing, the current bill in Congress is not what it purports to be and often its legislation goes against first amendment rights of free speech,” Chapman said. “To me, it”s surprising that people would even think to take away that free speech.”
Others disagree with Chapman”s opinions. Ruben Urias, 26, a senior from Buena Park, Calif., majoring in history, and president of the BYU College Democrats believes campaign finance should be reformed and that the Shays-Meehan bill would be an improvement over the current situation in campaign finance.
Urias said he fears that the way it is currently set up, certain groups and individuals have an unfairly loud voice in the nation”s government.
“Politicians are supposed to be working for us,” Urias said. “They”re supposed to be serving the people, not themselves, not the people who are giving them the money, not the corporations, not the special interest groups.”
Still others, like Magleby, have mixed feelings about the bill.
“I think it”s better than the status quo, but not the bill that I would have written,” he said. “But it”s a step in the right direction.”