|February 10, 2000
Volume 30 Number 12
|A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico|
Political Scientist Dwyre Investigates Primary Campaign Funding
With the primary election approaching fast, Californians can expect an increasing bombardment of political ads. Some people will change channels or turn the page, and some will laugh and others will argue, but Diana Dwyre, Political Science, will observe them carefully, looking at who is sponsoring what kinds of messages.
Dwyre is part of a national team studying special interest funding in the current campaigns. Funded by The Pew Charitable Trust, and headed by David Magleby of Brigham Young University, the study investigates how unregulated issue advocacy and special-interest groups influence this year's primary elections. Researchers in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Missouri, and California are monitoring all forms of interest-group campaign communications -- television, radio, newspaper ads, billboards, mailings, telephone calling, and Internet communications.
Dwyre explained that in 1976, the Supreme Court ruled in Buckley v. Valeo that unless a communication clearly expressed advocacy for or against a specific candidate, the sponsors of that communication did not have to report their spending to the Federal Election Commission, nor did they have to restrict the amount of money raised or spent. They could spend unregulated money advertising for a particular cause as long as they did not use what Dwyre called the magic words: "vote for, vote against, support, defeat."
Magleby said, "Outside interest groups are increasingly playing a role in setting the political agenda, mobilizing voters, and influencing legislation." Dwyre pointed to the 1998 special election in Santa Barbara as an example. Lois Capps, Democrat and winner, ran against a conservative Republican candidate, Tom Bordannaro. "On both sides, all these outside groups came in and ran campaign ads with issues that the candidates didn't even want to talk about," Dwyre said. These ads forced the candidates to talk about abortion and term limits, neither of which were controversial or salient issues at that time in that community. Outside groups also ran ads attacking the candidates they didn't like, putting Capps and Bordannaro in the position of explaining to the public that they neither ran nor endorsed the offending ads.
Because these groups are unregulated and unrestricted, and often go by vague, meaningless names, the public doesn't know who is sponsoring a particular communication. Dwyre explained, "Elections have been something that we've tried to keep in the public eye. People want to know how much that candidate spent to get elected. How much did the political party give that person? How much did the tobacco industry give to that candidate?" This is the information the project will track.
Dwyre and her research assistants are the coordinating team for California. They have their own data collection site in Sacramento. Additionally, researchers in the Bay Area, San Diego, and Los Angeles will send their data to Chico, and the Chico team will send it on to Utah.
Dwyre brings political experience and a campaign finance reform research background to this project. She has worked in a number of campaigns over the years but chose academia over politics. Although she enjoys politics, "the hours are terrible; it's seasonal work; it's not the kind of lifestyle I want." She realized that she could do some of both, by focusing her academic research on areas where she had political interests. In 1997-1998 she was an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellow working in Washington for Sander Levin (D-PA) on campaign finance reform issues.
The data from the current project is important to the campaign finance reform debate. One piece of that debate is the question of whether these communications should be regulated. Those who believe in regulation point to the public's desire and right to know who is financing elections. Those opposed to regulation argue that these ads fall under the protection of the first amendment's guarantees of free speech. Dwyre believes "we have to be very careful if we want to curb the use of these communications." At the same time, she would like to see the financial backing "disclosed, so we know who these folks are and we know how much they're spending.... The most important thing is to have things disclosed." -- BA
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