Paying for Elections

The Campaign Finance Thicket

Larry J. Sabato
Release Date: April 1, 1989

Public distrust of and skepticism about ten nation’s electoral system is widespread. The increasing costs of campaign finance have suggested to many that politics is the exclusive preserve of the rich. The simultaneous rise to prominence of political action committees (PACs) seems to allow special interest groups to determine the outcome of elections. But while calls for electoral financing reform are once again being heard, there is little consensus on what reforms are practical.

In Paying for Elections, Larry J. Sabato argues that in devising reforms there is a need to distinguish between real and apparent corruption. Politics will never be as fair and evenhanded as we might like, and a failure to concentrate on those activities that seriously injure the political system can lead to even greater cynicism among the general public. Further, he argues, there are a number of problems with campaign finance–such as the relative decline of party politics and fewer truly competitive elections due in part to the enormous fundraising advantages incumbents have over little-known challengers–that must be confronted before any attempt is make to reform the current system.

Sabato also takes on issues concerning PACs and setting limitations that are workable for making campaign contributions, strengthening political parties, and restoring public confidence to the system. Of these considerations, Sabato considers “fixes,” such as free television and radio time for candidates and parties, a 50 or 100 percent tax credit for small donations to parties and candidates, and severe restrictions on honoraria and special-interest-paid travel for congressmen.