Legislators use dean’s research to defend reform act

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    By Heather Danforth

    David Magleby, dean of The College of Family, Home and Social Sciences, is making waves in the world of campaign finance.

    Magleby is involved in unprecedented research on the effects of soft money and issue advocacy advertisements on campaigns, two of the issues addressed in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2001.

    Legislators are using his data to back up the bill, which has passed in the U.S. House of Representatives and will be debated in the Senate later this month.

    “Starting with the 1996 elections, I had a sense that the way federal elections would be financed had been fundamentally altered by two developments,” -issue advocacy ads and soft money funding, Magleby said.

    “What we had on the one hand was interest groups being basically unleashed to do whatever they wanted to do through the context of issue advocacy and parties being able to do whatever they wanted to do through the context of soft money,” Magleby said. “What it did was open up to parties and interest groups a means to have an unusually loud voice in the free speech debate.”

    These issues inspired Magleby to begin his research with the 1998 elections.

    Before he began his study, little or no empirical data existed on the subject. Now, he has published a book and another is in the process of publication.

    “It”s very pioneering,” said Nicole Carlisle, a BYU political science graduate and one of Magleby”s research associates. “Everyone respects him for really having gotten out there and found this the way he”s done.”

    The Pew Charitable Trusts supports his project with millions of dollars and national news organizations cover his findings. His data has been argued on the Senate floor and Magleby expects that if the campaign finance reform legislation is challenged in court, he and his research associates will be asked to testify.

    He isn”t surprised by the effect his research has had on campaign finance reform.

    “We anticipated that this research would have a potential impact on both legislation and litigation,” he said. “What we see our role as is to try and provide legislators and judges with accurate social science data about what really is happening with soft money and with issue advocacy so they can make an informed decision.”

    His research associates, Carlisle and Stephanie Curtis, a BYU statistics graduate, see the project”s role similarly. They don”t advocate a specific approach to campaign finance reform, but feel an obligation to inform the public about what”s going on, Carlisle said.

    “So much of it is meant to be hidden,” she said. “I think making the public aware is the most important thing we do.”

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