OWS and Campaign Finance Reform

Exploring possible agendas and messages, Occupy Wall Street may begin to focus on campaign finance reform as a direction for their efforts, since it ties together many of their concerns. But are their concerns about campaign finance justified?

According to Roll Call, a new study of political spending by S&P 500 companies show that more companies are not spending money on lobbying or campaigns, and that a large number of companies say they will not use independent expenditures. You can find the complete study here. If companies are spending less on campaigns and lobbying (if - because this study is by no means conclusive), then the real need for these proposals is possibly less than the perceived need for them. 

Monkey Cage has gather together some of the literature about money in politics, and I think some folks may find some of the conclusions, such as that our perceptions of money’s role in politics are influenced by the media’s over stating and exaggerating of the campaign finance race, and that lobbying has little influence on the outcome of legislation, to be surprising. However, studies of money in politics show mixed conclusions regarding how money actually effects election outcomes.

Ultimately, there is no way to get money completely out of politics - it’s been part of the process since politics has existed, although it’s probably not the mother’s milk - and many of the reforms push the money into channels where there is less control over how it is spent and even less disclosure.

The specific proposal coming from OWS is called the Electoral Reform Act of 2012, which has one bullet point for campaign funding:

Proposed, to eliminate all federal and corporate financing of campaigns, and all political action committees while creating a public Electoral Trust Fund (300M citizens x $10 each = 3 billion a year).  Air time for all candidates is free and equal.

There isn’t much detail that I can find on this proposal and how it is supposed to work (if anyone has anything let me know).

Any reforms, including the above, have to be cognizant of the potential for the reforms to push money into other channels and must be realistic rather than a reaction to false perceptions, e.g., the perception of corruption that lead to the soft money ban has contributed to the current situation with 527’s, 501c4’s and Super PACs (the money that went to political parties has gone to these groups with less oversight, and the Citizens United ruling has only fueled that fire).


The Hill was the first to report that lobbyists are being hired by the freshman class, a story which others later followed. The consensus seems to be that newly elected congressional reformers are hypocritical in hiring institutional influence as their chief advisors. This assumption is wrong.