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A description of campaign finance which is moderately regulated as it stands

The Hydraulics of Campaign Money We wrote this book not only because of our academic interest in political parties and elections, but for a practical reason. We share with many U.

Like many scholars we are intrigued by the underlying dynamics that have been pushing the political parties into polar ideological directions. Our main purpose in this book, however, has been a practical one. We seek to shed light on whether the design of campaign finance laws encourages or discourages ideological polarization.

In this chapter we summarize our findings from the previous chapters and highlight the effects of campaign finance laws on ideological polarization of the political parties. At the federal level, independent spending has soared, but it has also been prevalent in the American states where political parties have been financially constrained.

We begin by recapitulating two of our main themes: Pragmatists and Purists Revisited At the outset we made the claim that campaign finance laws that restricted the party organizations might have the effect of giving greater clout to ideological elements—the purists—in both party coalitions.

The UCLA school, however, tends to dismiss the organizational form as an epiphenomenon—a kind of side issue—with little or no bearing on such partisan matters as who gets elected and what the party stands for. As we have made clear in our analysis, we disagree. We think the organization of the party matters significantly in shaping the direction of the party. In our view, the party organization is the natural venue of the pragmatists.

We argued at the outset that the several factions in the party have different priorities, and we maintain that these factions are in a constant state of natural tension.

Our view differs from that of the UCLA school, which tends to characterize coordination within the network as essentially frictionless. We have called the pragmatists the materialist Hobbesians of the party. They pursue power for status and very tangible benefits.

Their ranks include the Karl Roves, the James Carvilles, and a host of lesser-known party officials, including many of the leaders in state offices, who thrive on the game of politics. To be sure, the pragmatists have ideological preferences, but these are sublimated to the aim of winning elections as a path to reaping the benefits of power.

Because they keep this aim in sight, pragmatists are averse to embracing extreme policies that might make them lose votes or that might create the kind of ideological gridlock that would prevent the flow of benefits to them and their followers. On the other side of the coin are the purists who operate primarily outside the party structure.

  • In our framework, the pragmatists and purists constitute two broad elements of the party that contend for influence;
  • But the IE amounts are small compared to those in states where party organizations are constrained.

These policy-demanding partisans engage in politics primarily for a cause rather than for an individualistic benefit. They make politics a principled quest for the ideal, rather than the merely realistic; for this reason, we think of them as the idealist faction of the party. Understandably, purists want government policies to reflect their values—gun rights, abortion rights, limited government, expansive government, or whatever distinctive worldview they espouse.

The purists give the party a principled spine and make politics more than just horse-trading. Thanks to them, the parties have distinctive policy positions that give voters genuine choices.

Thanks to them, political elites are held accountable. And unlike the pragmatists, the purists are willing to stake out strong positions even if this puts the party at electoral risk. In their view, compromising on principles undermines the legitimacy of their cause and demoralizes followers. Politics for the many purist donors is as much an expressive form of participation on behalf of causes as it is an instrument for helping the party gain power.

In our framework, the pragmatists and purists constitute two broad elements of the party that contend for influence. The degree of power either faction holds depends primarily on the context of the period. For example, in a nation divided by major policy disagreements, such as slavery, the purists are bound to have more influence, since they provide moral clarity on the issues that grip the public. We would argue, however, that the conferral of power on one faction over the other is also dependent on rules that favor one or the other.

And given the relative importance of money in politics, campaign finance rules matter for allocating power. The money whose flow such rules govern is not, of course, the only critical resource in politics, but those who have access to money exercise influence because politicians will naturally depend upon them.

Rather than look at one-to-one relationships between donors and candidates, we gave attention to the larger flows of money in the political system. Experience with campaign finance reform suggests that trying to stop the amount of money in politics is not very effective, and that political spending is rather inelastic.

Like water, money finds a way to get around obstacles. The hydraulic theory of money in politics makes us attentive to how campaign finance laws channel money to and through different political actors. And we want to be clear about the very different incentives and behaviors of the actors in the political system.

When money flows to one set of actors—the purists—it is likely to be used in different ways than when it flows primarily to the pragmatists.

When well-intentioned reformers pass laws that limit contributions, the amount of money in politics does not change significantly, but its flow migrates to either the purist or the pragmatist faction. And this rechanneling of money empowers different elements in the political system. For this reason, we observe heated political battles over campaign finance reform.

Not surprisingly, skirmishes over the rules occur not only between the parties, but often within the parties La Raja 2008. For example, in lengthy deliberations over passage of the McCain-Feingold Act in 2002, which banned party soft money, Democrats were highly divided. Based on our theory about how campaign finance laws negatively affect party organizations, we think the McCain-Feingold Act benefited the purists outside the formal party structure at the expense of the pragmatists closely affiliated with the party organization.

  1. Our view differs from that of the UCLA school, which tends to characterize coordination within the network as essentially frictionless. This factional dynamic between pragmatists and purists inspires a central paradox in our conceptualization of political parties.
  2. They pursue power for status and very tangible benefits. For this reason, business interests gave soft money to national parties in the years before passage of the BCRA, but we do not observe them giving similar amounts to IE groups.
  3. Issue groups typically want to increase the number of members who think like them, so they give more to challengers than other groups 31 percent. In this way, the pragmatist faction of the party loses a valuable strategic asset when the party organization cannot be the venue for such decisions.

As candidates rely increasingly on the purists for their campaigns, the collective party becomes more ideological and distinctive. The shift can be subtle and can play out over several election cycles before significant change can be observed. But it is a process that can gradually affect every decision of who runs for office, because ideological donors are key gatekeepers in the party.

This factional dynamic between pragmatists and purists inspires a central paradox in our conceptualization of political parties.

While political scientists have traditionally posited a tight link between strong party organizations and strong programmatic parties, we do not think such a link is necessarily forged in a two-party system APSA 1950.

In fact, we speculate that the relationship might be inverse rather than direct. Parties that are weak organizationally might end up stronger programmatically, because the purists operating outside the formal party structure are able to influence the selection of candidates and the behavior of officeholders through direct contributions and in-kind support from affiliated interest groups.

Purists might castigate incumbents publicly for being disloyal to the party, and might even campaign against them in the primary.

In contrast, a financially strong party organization will use its resources to finance candidates who hew more closely to the views of the median voter.

And pragmatists in the party organization will not want to risk a seat by pushing members to vote in unity with the party for a highly ideological candidate, when a vote for such a candidate, who might be distant from the district median, would put them at risk electorally. We have shown in our analysis that, in light of the differences between purists and pragmatists, campaign finance laws that favor a description of campaign finance which is moderately regulated as it stands organizations have a dampening effect on ideological polarization.

Pro-party laws tend to shift resources to the pragmatist faction in the party organization whose main goal is to win elections rather than to make the party ideologically liberal or conservative.

To be sure, there are much deeper currents driving party polarization than campaign finance rules. Research shows that activists in both parties have become more ideologically cohesive over time Baldassarri and Gelman 2008; Layman et al.

The wealthier partisan activists might also pull the coalition in their direction by helping to finance influential think tanks and foundations.

Other activists attend party meetings and conventions, lobby government officials and elected members persistently, mobilize core constituencies at critical governing moments, recruit candidates often from their own ranksand generally promote in the media a national set of policy issues at all levels of government.

Notwithstanding the multipronged influence of activists within party coalitions, we think campaign money matters for polarization. Much of the impact takes the form of direct contributions to candidates or, increasingly, is exerted through independent spending by partisan groups. But power is also granted through the latent capacity of activists to punish politicians by withholding group endorsements and hampering the mobilization of financial resources.

Such endorsements help politicians attract donations from voters who closely follow such cues when deciding where to give money. In those chapters, we carefully examined who gives money, who receives money, and how these dynamics affect ideological polarization in U. Through that analysis, we illustrated how financial constraints on party organizations actually shift power from pragmatists to purists because laws that hamper parties make candidates more reliant on ideologically driven donors.

We focused our analysis on state legislative elections because an effective comparative analysis would not have been possible if we had focused only on federal elections. In the following sections, we summarize our main findings. Candidates rely overwhelmingly on nonparty sources of funding. Candidates receive on average 25 percent of their funding from individual donors and 32 percent from nonparty organizations.

In contrast, they receive just 9 percent from political parties. The party financing of candidates varies from virtually 0 percent in Arizona to a high of 40 percent in Indiana. The conclusion is inescapable that parties play a relatively limited role in funding legislative elections in the United States.

  1. FEC 2010 , which allows any organization to spend unlimited money in politics.
  2. In contrast, candidates are viewed as closer to their position.
  3. At the same time, state parties have been severely restricted from campaigning for the entire party ticket because of the federalization of campaign finance law. The wealthy donor can have more say in how his or her dollars are spent with an IE group that is highly focused on a few issues and candidates.
  4. In party-limited states, candidates relied more heavily on individuals as their source of funding, and individual donors tend to reward ideological extremism. Unlike party organizations, the vast majority of these groups have short histories and the kind of bland labels that give no indication of who is behind them.

This situation is relatively recent. Historically, political parties were less constrained in making contributions relative to other organizations. But this changed considerably in the past two or three decades, precisely during a period of increasing polarization. In 1990, only one in five states limited the amount that party organizations could contribute to candidates. By 2010, that proportion increased to half the American states. The tightening of regulations on political parties has occurred at the same time that partisan organizing has become more important because competition for government control has increased and party programs have grown far more distinctive.

With constraints on party finances, however, partisans have sought independent campaign tactics to help favored candidates win. Those who have exploited independent spending the most are the ideological factions and entrepreneurs with the means and motive to step into the breach left by the weakened party organization.

We maintain that this dynamic contributes to the palpable ideological distancing of the parties. Individual donors are highly ideological. Americans who contribute money in state legislative elections are much more ideological than the average American voter.

These donors can be separated decisively into two ideological camps: Small donors are as ideological as large donors. This finding raises a paradoxical situation.

Campaign Finance and Political Polarization: When Purists Prevail

We see little evidence that a strategy of encouraging candidates to raise more money from small donors will broaden the pool of donors to include more moderates. In fact, other research indicates that contributions from small donors, in comparison with those from Americans in the top.

We also observed that the donor pools in states with low contribution limits do not differ in demographic makeup from donors in states with no contribution limits. One argument for low contributions is that they will compel politicians to seek donations from a broader swath of the electorate.

Yet, even in states with low contribution limits, donors remain overwhelmingly wealthy, white, male, and married. This finding suggests that the imposition of contribution limits is not an effective strategy to broaden either the ideological or demographic profile of donors. Individual donors prefer to contribute to ideological candidates.

Donors typically prefer to give money to candidates rather than to parties or groups because the candidates share their ideological views.