Limits and Loopholes: The Quest for Money, Free Speech, and Fair Election
(Congressional Quarterly Press, 2008)
Co-authored by Diana Dwyre, chair, Political Science
Without confidence in how elections are funded, voters can become disenchanted and distrusting, said Diana Dwyre, chair, Political Science. And that, she said, is dangerous.
“This is how we choose the people who make the decisions that affect us all. If our elections are corrupt or if people question our process, then we become vulnerable to all kinds of threats to the ideals we value, such as free and fair elections and freedom of speech,” she said, adding that she hopes her new book, Limits and Loopholes, will help clarify the process.
Few know better than Dwyre how complicated the system can be. In 1998, she worked for a Democratic Representative as an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellow on the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) of 2001, also called the McCain-Feingold Act.
During this time, she met Victoria A. Farrar-Myers, professor of political science at the University of Texas, Arlington, who was working on the bill from the other side of the aisle. “It was a very bipartisan effort in Congress, so we worked together when otherwise things like that don’t usually happen,” she said.
Dwyre and Farrar-Myers brought this spirit of cooperation and unique perspective into co-writing Legislative Labyrinth, a book about the process of trying to pass BCRA in Congress. Now Dwyre and Farrar-Myers are continuing the story of campaign finance and the BCRA in their second book, Limits and Loopholes: The Quest for Money, Free Speech, and Fair Elections.
One of the things the bill did was close a loophole that allowed big donors to give large chunks of what is called “soft money” to the political parties, said Dwyre. The parties then could dole out that money virtually without restriction. “This was too big a link between the big-money people and the people who got elected. The parties were functioning as the middlemen,” she said. The BCRA banned this.
“But that money doesn’t go away,” said Dwyre. “There are always going to be people who want to influence the outcome of elections, and they are going to do everything they can to find new loopholes.”
One of the unintended consequences of the bill is that the money now filters into places less accountable to the public—to transient organizations and under-the-radar groups with euphemistic names (like “Good People for a Wonderful America,” joked Dwyre) and no formal connection to a candidate. These groups form solely to influence an election through campaign ads or telephone campaigns and then sometimes dissolve after the election, said Dwyre. They are even less accountable to the public than the parties and PACs that formerly got this “soft money.” She named the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that surfaced during the last presidential election as one example of this phenomenon.
The BCRA is still being refined through legal challenges, said Dwyre, and there are lots of organizations currently popping up to challenge the regulations on raising this new kind of soft money. “It’s a messy process,” she said. “People are going to watch the 2008 presidential election, and they are going to see tons of money going various places—it will be really troubling.”
Our elections reflect our nation’s values, our attempt to answer the question: “What should elections look like?” said Dwyre. “Is it more important to allow free and unfettered speech, even if that means people who have more money get to speak more and at higher volumes than other people? Or is it more important to give everyone equal access to that marketplace of speech during an election? If we want free and fair elections, are we doing that? Where do we fall down?”
Dwyre and Farrar-Myers hope that Limits and Loopholes, designed for the typical voter as much as for students and scholars, will help readers understand even more about the complex election process—and be part of the effort to envision the elections of the future.
—Anna Harris, Public Affairs and Publications