Campaign Finance Reform Laws and the PAC Phenomenon
Zuhorski, Mary Elizabeth
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"Liberty is to faction what air is to fire," in the words of James Madison. Clearly, he was no stranger to "special interests" as he revealed in his Federalist no. 10. This effulgent document explained some of the underlying principles of the United States Constitution and Madison wanted to ventilate the question of its purpose to his readers- the preservation of liberty. Furthermore, Madison suggests that there are at least two ways in which a "tyranny by a majority" can be prevented. First, would be to prohibit people from forming factions at all which he quickly denounced as being worse for it would prevent tyranny but only at the expense of liberty. Therefore, interest groups should be an accepted, inherent part of the political system. Nevertheless, much controversy has' arisen over what Time magazine described as the "ascendant factionalism" in recent years. This is evidenced by the so-called "alarmist rhetoric" on Capitol Hill and in the media over the growth of poiltical action committees (PACs). "How much is too much?" as Edwin M. Epstein wonders is a very good question. Madison's second alternative "was to create a set of conditions in which factions would flourish and multiply" in accordance with the Constitution. The idea being that if a multitude of factions flourish, then they will all have to compete and compromise with one another if anyone is to survive which consequently means that everyone's interests would be taken into consideration. It is sort of a co-optation program in that all the dissenters cannot claim they were overlooked since they are also a part of the system. In short, Michael J. Malbin suggests that if it is truly necessary to decrease the influence of particular special interest groups, than a solution is to adopt Madison's approach and let them be "fruitful, multiply, and compete." Undoubtedly, a sundry of ideas exist,as to how the system should run, but keeping the lesson of James Madison's insightful paper in mind will be helpful in disseminating these ideas. In addition, one must not be naive enough to believe that men are virtuous creatures who would never try to use politics to achieve private economic ends. In Federalist, no. 51, Madison adds that "If men were angels, no government would be necessary." Having established the legitimacy and purpose of special interest groups, one of the next steps is to analyze what all the current outcries led by the Common Cause, a public interest lobby group, against political action committees are about with the attack's focus on business's political action committees. First, the laws made by Congress during this century pertaining to campaign financing are noteworthy because as Herbert E. Alexander writes, "Ironically, the laws designed to reduce special-interest influence, especially individual contribution limits, have accelerated the growth of PACs." The purpose of the reform laws was to enhance the average voter's position in the electoral process. Perhaps, in an indirect manner, it accomplished that, for PACs continually boast that their task is to bring as many of their affiliated persons into the political process who would normally remain anonymous in that a large segment of the population is ridden with apathy and disinterest in the political system for whatever reasons. By reason of ignorance will not be tolerated, however, since the PACs' aim is to educate their employees, retirees, stockholders and affiliated persons of the vital importance of participation in the political arena. The following text is an outline of the historical background of these political reform laws and some of their implications.