Reform and Reality

The Financing of State and Local Campaigns

Herbert E. Alexander
Release Date: October 1, 1991

The last two decades have been marked by dramatic changes in the rules of the game for American politics. At the federal, state and local levels, an immense array of new laws and regulations affects the way campaigns are financed, how candidates are selected, and what information thy are obligated to make public about themselves and their families. Though significant, these codified changes are probably less important than the changed expectations of the press and public concerning what is newsworthy and interesting about candidates and election campaigns. Most people would agree that all these changes, which are generally termed reforms, have been pointed in the right direction, improving the openness, honesty, and responsiveness of the political process.

Paradoxically, the public is even less happy with American politics today than it was at the beginning of this wave of changes a generation ago. We can only speculate on the reasons behind this unhappiness, by two come to mind. One is that however many formal changes have been made it would have been almost impossible for them to keep up with the informal changes in popular expectations and press coverage of political candidates and campaigns. The second reason is a bit more certain. With so many changes and different versions of reforms, it was always likely that some would fail or prove to be of limited usefulness along the road to some more acceptable set of rules of the game.

In this paper, Herbert Alexander explores how some important American campaign finance reforms are working at the state level and how their progress might possibly lead to more reforms for both state and federal campaign rules.