Thursday, December 08, 2011

Work with Us!

We're happy to announce we have two new openings for part-time student workers at the Russell Library, to begin in January 2012! A quick description of each position appears below; for more information on what we're looking for, or to apply, visit UGA's Dawglink website:

TITLE: Digital Access Student Assistant

The Digital Access Student Assistant will assist in the processing of digital born and digitized archival materials.He/she will also aid in providing online access to such materials via Russell Library's finding aids database, digital repository, online exhibit builder, and departmental web site. This position will be supervised by Russell Library's Access and Electronic Records Archivist.

  • Experience with web design
  • Fluency in HTML
  • Familiarity with library/archives collections, tools, and services
  • Self-motivated, dependable, and enthusiastic
  • Strong interpersonal and communication skills
  • Ability to work both as a member of a team and independently
  • Accuracy and attention to detail
  • Background in some area of computer technology preferred but not required
Please submit a cover letter, resume, and references via e-mail to Abby R. Adams at

Graphic and Web Design Student Assistant

This position assists the Access and Outreach unit of the Russell Library by: providing graphic design for print and online environments, assisting with maintenance and special projects for the Russell Library website, assisting with exhibit design, fabrication, and installation.

The ideal candidate for this position will be equally at home designing for Web and print environments and will have both technical proficiencies in both arenas, as well as a thorough grounding in graphic design principles and standards.


  • A minimum of 1 year of experience in website design which may include course work and/or on-the-job experience, a combination of both or ability to demonstrate proficiency through examples of independent work
  • Strong awareness of graphic design principles and approaches for print and online contexts through experience, examples of independent work, or coursework Fluency in Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, HTML, AND CSS
  • Ability to work independently and as part of team
  • Strong problem solving skills
  • Demonstrated strong work ethic
  • Flexibility and interest in working in project-based environment
Please submit a cover letter, resume, and references via e-mail to Jan Levinson at

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Fourth Estate

The news media is sometimes referred to as the Fourth Estate of politics. Nineteenth century writers attributed this usage to British parliamentarian Edmund Burke, who used it in a 1787 debate over whether or not to allow press attendance at House of Commons proceedings. In Burke’s reckoning, the other three estates were members of Parliament—Lords Temporal, Lords Spiritual, and Commons—and this framework itself referenced medieval Europe’s “three estates” of clergy, nobles, and commoners. Today, the news media plays a vital role in shaping popular perceptions of events, history, and candidates for public office. Certain politicians have even used their own status as “media darlings” to their advantage when seeking office, while others play off the perceived media antagonism to their campaigns to gain public sympathy.

For an example of the latter, we need look no further than Richard Nixon. His resentful attitude about press coverage of his 1960 presidential race against John F. Kennedy (particularly their televised debates) significantly impacted the rest of his political career. After losing the California gubernatorial race in 1962 to Democratic incumbent Pat Brown he declared, “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.” When seeking the White House again in 1968, Nixon urged the nation’s “Silent Majority” to stand against liberal elites in the press, the Capitol, and on college campuses. The famous “Enemies List” penned in 1971 included dozens of major media figures at nearly every high-circulation newspaper and magazine. Even while under siege during the Watergate investigation in 1973-74, a beleaguered Nixon continued to push back against mounting allegations with dismissive remarks about the popular press’s motivations, and behind the scenes (as revealed by his infamous white house tapes) he made derisive and sometimes obscene remarks about such personalities as Katharine Graham, editor of The Washington Post.

Another Republican presidential hopeful, John McCain, benefited greatly from media coverage in his 2000 primary campaign against George W. Bush. Running on a “maverick” platform that mixed traditional conservative stances on cultural issues and tax policy with reformist proposals on campaign finance reform and management of the federal budget surplus. McCain traveled in a bus dubbed the Straight Talk Express and was said to use every opportunity for positive publicity, including touring the Sunday talk show circuit throughout 1999 discussing the Kosovo conflict and his experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. McCain won a 49-to-30 percent victory over national frontrunner Bush in the New Hampshire primary, earning much of his support from moderate Republicans and crossover Independents. A further surge of press coverage ensued for McCain, whose supporters affectionately dubbed themselves “McCainiacs,” heading into the crucial GOP primary in South Carolina.

After a poll showed McCain leading Bush by five points in the conservative state, Bush allied himself on stage with a veteran’s activist, J. Thomas Burch, who accused McCain of “coming home from Vietnam and forgetting us.” The South Carolina campaign would go down in political history as among the most vicious in modern memory, as a still-unidentified party delivered mail and push polls claiming (variably) that McCain had fathered a child out of wedlock, was a “Manchurian candidate” psychologically broken from his days in Vietnam, or that his wife Cindy was a drug addict. Meanwhile, conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh attacked McCain as a favorite of Democrats and the “liberal media.” Bush defeated McCain in the Palmetto State by 53 percent to 42 percent, and despite victories in Michigan and his home state of Arizona, along with continued sympathy in media circles, McCain’s campaign failed to recover. When he again sought the presidency in 2008, McCain found it difficult to revive his erstwhile press adoration with national newcomer Barack Obama in the race.

Many months (even years) into the campaign season for the 2012 presidential race, its interesting to think about how (of if) the press is shaping the way we see potential candidates. Is there a media darling in the Republican race already?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Open by Appointment Only

We've had a few confused patrons since making our re-opening announcement last week. To clear things up:

- The Russell Library is now open for research by advance appointment only until January 2012.

- To make a research appointment, request materials, and receive an orientation to using the collections in our new location, please submit an email to, or call 706-542-5766.

In addition, please call or email our staff with any other questions you might have! We're happy to help.

A is for Aardvarking

Aardvarking is a little-known practice in electoral politics in which, the story goes, campaign consultants recruit candidates whose names start with “A” (or another letter early in the alphabet) to run in low-profile races in which neither candidate is likely to garner media attention or possess high name recognition. Purportedly in elections that voters are paying only minimal attention to, they will tend to support whichever candidate has a name (first or last) that falls noticeably earlier in the alphabet than his or her opponent’s.

Whether aardvarking is an actual phenomenon or a political junkie’s urban legend is very much up for debate, but it is attested to by Republican consultant Roger Stone. He writes that “in the late 1970’s a Republican consultant and I examined a series of races on Long Island when [sic] two candidates who were complete unknowns and who had no campaign resources to raise their profile. In 90% of the races the candidate who's [sic] name began with A won.” Stone offered the “aardvark effect” as an explanation for unemployed private citizen Alvin Greene’s upset victory in South Carolina’s Democratic primary for U.S. Senate last year. Greene’s opponent, the state party’s favored choice and a comparatively seasoned candidate, was named Vic Rawl. If Stone’s eye-popping 90% statistic is true, it could be explained by the alleged phenomenon that voters choose whichever candidate is listed first when they are indifferent as to an election’s outcome.

Some states and localities list candidates in alphabetical order by name and, in those that list candidates’ names randomly, the candidate with the alphabetically earliest name would presumably have even odds with his or her opponents of appearing first. Thus the overall probability, assuming a state had some locales using alphabetical order and some using random order, would favor “Adam Alberts” beating “Ricky Jones.” But all of this might be completely invented. In the case of Alvin Greene, South Carolina State Rep. Bakari Sellers echoed the idea that Greene won due to ballot order. But State Sen. Robert Ford, a fixture in South Carolina politics and the African-American community, controversially speculated that Greene won because black voters recognized his surname as African-American and voted in ethnic solidarity.

Whatever the reason, supposed election flukes do occur, and the lower-profile the election the more likely one will happen. While almost no one would say they vote for President based on the order of candidate names, many people openly admit to voting arbitrarily in local races. Especially when nothing more than a candidate’s name has been widely publicized. In Stone’s words, “Why does Adam Alberts beat Ricky Jones 90% of the time? Who knows?”

Thursday, November 17, 2011

November 17, 1961: The Albany Movement

Fifty years ago today, civil rights activists in Albany, Georgia, aided by national groups like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and NAACP, formed a coalition known as the Albany Movement to desegregate the city of about 50,000 people. Though voter registration drives and civil rights petitions had spread throughout Albany since at least the 1940s, the arrival of national SNCC voter registration activists Charles Sherrod, Cordell Reagon, and Charles Jones began a new phase in local civil rights activity. With local osteopath William G. Anderson, the Albany Movement’s elected president, these youths initiated a drive to fully and immediately desegregate Albany.

Below: This Clifford Baldowski cartoon, published in the Atlanta Constitution in 1958, depicts Governor Marvin Griffin chasing Martin Luther King in a wheel labeled "Albany Movement" along slats labeled "Incident After Incident--". A man holding a book titled "1955-1958 Graftin' Years" looks on.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. joined the movement on December 15th, nearly a month into its existence, after enduring criticism from groups like the SNCC that he had maintained “a safe distance” from previous on-the-ground activism, including the previous summer’s Freedom Rides. Though he had only planned to stay for a short time, King and scores of other activists were jailed the next day for their peaceful demonstrations at bus stations, libraries, and lunch counters. King refused bail until the city conceded to key desegregation measures. Albany’s police chief, Laurie Pritchett, had carefully studied King’s leadership style and past actions taken by the Civil Rights Movement and hoped to subvert their activities. He ordered police officers to refrain from violence and disperse prisoners among a number of rural jails in southwest Georgia to avoid the national publicity typically connected to urban mass arrests. The Birmingham Post-Herald lauded Pritchett for his approach and stated that “the manner in which Albany’s chief of police has enforced the law and maintained order has won the admiration of … thousands.”

Convinced the city had accepted the movement’s demands, King paid bail and left Albany. Some months later, it became clear that Albany’s white leadership had no intention of repealing its Jim Crow ordinances, and King and fellow Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC) officer Ralph Abernathy returned to the city in July 1962 for sentencing related to the December 1961 charge. They were offered a choice: further jail time or a $178 fine. Both opted for incarceration, but an anonymous white attorney paid the men’s fines, prompting their forcible release. King and the SCLC left Albany in August, convinced the movement had failed. Local activists like Sherrod felt differently, however. Black voter registration efforts in Albany proved so successful that an African-American businessman, Thomas Chatmon, forced a runoff election for city council that autumn, and the city repealed all segregation ordinances the following spring. Sherrod would go on to serve on the city council himself from 1976 to 1990, and Reagon made a name for himself in the 1970s as an antiwar and environmental activist.

For King, the Albany Movement’s purported failure reaped dividends in Birmingham, where he and the SCLC would pursue methods similar to those employed in Albany, garnering more national attention than any previous chapter in the civil rights movement had attained.

Thanks to the Civil Rights Digital Library for many of the links provided in this post, especially the WSB newsfilm clips -- amazing to watch. And for one more treat, here is a link to a program hosted on campus called "Beyond the Movement" -- with participants from the Albany Movement reflecting on their experiences:

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

National Issues Forums Institute Announces Support for Communities to Deliberate

Do you want to encourage dialogue and deliberation in your community or organization? The Russell Forum for Civic Life in Georgia is happy to announce that the National Issues Forums Institute is offering grants in support of deliberative forums work in honor of Taylor Willingham.

Taylor Willingham was a pioneer in the public engagement field and in National Issues Forums (NIF) work, including her service as an National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI) director. She passed away in the fall of 2011 after a year-long battle with kidney cancer. During her career she designed, organized, and led numerous public engagement projects; taught university courses online; founded Texas Forums, along with her work with the LBJ Presidential Library; worked in the adult literacy field; and wrote about public engagement, just to name a few of her many accomplishments.

To learn more about the grant program including eligibility guidelines and the procedures for applying, please visit:

Friday, November 11, 2011

What's the Third One?

In light of this election season’s widely covered Republican debates, including one just this week that has already achieved media notoriety, we thought it a good time to delve into a brief history of presidential debates. In recent decades, presidential debates have become an expected part of the electoral process, both during party primaries and the general election.

Though not a single general election presidential debate was held in the nation’s history until 1960, there were several precedents for that landmark cycle. Republican presidential nominee Wendell Willkie challenged President Franklin Roosevelt to a radio debate in 1940, but Roosevelt had refused. Primary debates occurred between Republicans Tom Dewey and Harold Stassen in 1948, and Democrats Adlai Stevenson and Estes Kefauver in 1956. In August of that year, a University of Maryland undergraduate named Fred Kahn contacted the university’s president along with the national chairmen of both political parties, the Governor of Maryland, and Eleanor Roosevelt suggesting that both major party presidential nominees meet in person to answer questions from a panel of college students. Mrs. Roosevelt, a reform-minded activist until her death six years later, endorsed the idea and forwarded Kahn’s letter to Stevenson’s campaign manager. Though nothing came of the proposal in 1956, it would influence the Kennedy and Nixon campaigns to agree to debate four times in 1960, though the first debate would draw by far the largest television viewership -- 66 million viewers (about 37% of the entire American population).

That first debate, held September 26, 1960 at the studios of CBS’ WBBM-TV in Chicago, is famed today for the divergent ways in which its television and radio audiences perceived the outcome. Gallup phone and in-person surveys in the days after showed that the television-viewing audience largely considered Kennedy, who appeared tanned, rested, and alert, the debate victor. Meanwhile radio listeners (a smaller audience by far) thought that Nixon—who had worn a rumpled shirt and refused to wear makeup for the camera—had won. Political pundits by and large felt that Kennedy had triumphed, but that Nixon won the following two debates, while the final debate (a forum on Cuba-U.S. relations held October 21st) was more or less a draw. You can judge for yourself; the first debate has been uploaded to YouTube in portions starting here.

Nixon later ascribed his loss to Kennedy in part to his poor camera presentation in that first debate, and refused to debate opponents Hubert Humphrey in 1968 or George McGovern in 1972. Nor did Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater face off at any point in the 1964 campaign. Thus the next general presidential debate would not occur until 1976, when a strong initial performance for Gerald Ford on domestic policy was offset by a second debate about foreign policy in which the sitting President appeared unaware of Soviet domination in Eastern Europe. Debates were perhaps a more decisive factor four years later, with only one held between President Jimmy Carter and challenger Ronald Reagan. Audiences widely agreed that Reagan had won; the retired actor and ex-governor scored with memorable lines like “there you go again” and “are you better off now than you were four years ago?” After that debate the polls moved from a rough tie between Carter and Reagan to a convincing Reagan lead, and the Republican would best Carter by 9 points come Election Day.

Since the early 1990s, presidential debates have increasingly been governed by memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the two major-party candidates and have gradually become highly formal, carefully crafted affairs. While some amusing visuals emerged in debates during the 1990s and 2000s—George H. W. Bush repeatedly checking his watch during a 1992 debate with Bill Clinton and Ross Perot, Al Gore sighing skeptically during George W. Bush’s rebuttals in 2000, Bush the younger’s “He forgot Poland” remark in 2004—rarely do contemporary general election debates shake up the campaign state of play or provide clear front runners amid an otherwise muddied race anymore. If debates ever did greatly influence presidential election outcomes, it is difficult to imagine that in today’s exceedingly structured format they would still be able to. Then again, instances like this remind us that presidential debates are still capable of creating some unforgettable campaign moments.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Russell Library Moving Alert Bulletin #3

Beginning today, November 10, 2011, researchers may access Russell Library archival collections again by advanced appointment!

The Russell Library is Going West!

From November 10, 2011 through December 22, 2011, patrons may access Russell Library collections by advanced appointment in the new Special Collections Libraries Building located at 300 South Hull Street.

To make an advance research appointment, request materials, and receive an orientation to using Russell collections in the new location, please submit an email to, or call 706-542-5766.

*PLEASE NOTE: UNTIL JANUARY 2012, Researchers cannot access the new building TO DO RESEARCH without FIRST making an appointment!

• Regular research access resumes on January 2, 2012.
• Special Collections Libraries Building dedication is February 17, 2012.
• Russell Exhibition Galleries open in mid February 2012.

For more information about arranging research access during fall 2011, please contact Russell archivists at or 706-542-5766. For general updates and news about the Russell Library and its westward journey, please visit any of the following information points:

• Website:
• Russell Blog:
• Twitter: @RussellLibrary

Russell Library will share space in the new building with Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library and the Walter J. Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection. For information regarding their respective moving schedules and access to their collections, please visit:

• Special Collections Building Web Page:
UGA Libraries’ News Blog:
Hargrett Library Web Site:
• Brown Media Archives Web Site:

Friday, November 04, 2011


Yesterday marked the 25th anniversary of the news media’s discovery of the Iran-Contra affair, first exposed by the Lebanese magazine Ash-Shiraa on November 3, 1986. The arms-for-hostages scandal nearly crippled the Reagan administration and catalyzed what may have been the greatest drop in a President’s approval rating in polling history. Over the course of that November, Reagan’s approval rating in the New York Times/CBS poll fell from 67 percent to 46 percent.

The affair began on August 20, 1985 with the first sale by Pentagon officials of TOW anti-tank missiles to the government of Iran. The sale violated a U.S. arms embargo against Iran, in place since the 1979 Iranian Revolution and subsequent taking of American hostages in Tehran. The sale’s purported intent was to secure the release of six American hostages being held by the radical Lebanese group Hezbollah, a group backed by the Iranian Armed Guard. Another layer of complexity came when Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North of the National Security Council devised a plan to divert proceeds from the weapons sale to fund the Contras in Nicaragua, a paramilitary group seeking to depose the democratically elected (but Soviet-allied) Sandinistas from power. Further sales occurred between September 1985 and October 1986, with at least 2,500 TOW missiles and several hundred Hawk anti-aircraft missile spare parts shipped to Iran in exchange for hostages released. Directly funding Contras with intent to overthrow Nicaragua’s government ran afoul of federal law as the 1982 Boland Amendment explicitly banned such support.

The executive branch was aware of the affair’s questionable legal status. Notes taken by Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger on December 7, 1985 recorded that Reagan said “he could answer charges of illegality but he couldn’t answer charge [sic] that ‘big strong Reagan passed up a chance to free hostages.’” Wherever possible, the U.S. sought to organize sales to Iran through foreign entities. Once the Ash-Shiraa story made international news, North and Hall spent the remainder of November shredding potentially incriminating documents. The White House fired both on November 25, denying that the Iran-Contra arrangement had been an arms-for-hostages deal. Reagan himself would admit that “mistakes were made”in a televised address on March 4, 1987. The scandal dissipated during the course of 1987, even as Nicaragua sued the U.S. in the International Court of Justice.North was convicted in 1989 of three felony counts, while National Security Advisor John Poindexter was convicted of four 1990; both convictions were overturned on appeal. The “Teflon President,” recovered his popularity. Reagan left office in January 1989 with a 64 percent approval rating.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Informal Forum (11/13/2011): The National Debt (Again)

How Should We Deal with the National Debt?

(a question so important, we're talking about it twice!)

An Oconee Community Forum Conversation
Brought to you by the Russell Forum for Civic Life in Georgia
When: Sunday, November 13, 2011 -- 3:00-5:00 p.m.
Where: Oconee Public Library Auditorium, 1080 Experiment Station Rd. Watkinsville, Georgia

According to Congressional Budget Office, the federal government closed out fiscal year 2011 with an estimated deficit of $1.3 trillion--the third straight year that the deficit exceeded a trillion dollars. The current total of all accumulated U.S. budget deficits is $14.8 trillion and accounts for 8.6% of the size of the overall economy. Have you ever wondered how much of that $14 trillion+ debt is on your shoulders now or on the shoulders of your kids in the future? Currently, every American’s share of the national debt and unfunded liabilities like Medicare and Social Security is $184,000 and climbing. If we do nothing to solve this ballooning debt, the federal government will be spending every tax dollar on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and interest on the debt alone in 29 years. That will mean either much higher taxes or far fewer government services for the same tax level in future decades.

But what do we do about it?
Should we cut government programs?
Raise taxes?
What if taming the debt crisis makes the economy worse?

The Russell Forum for Civic Life in Georgia, a civic engagement program of UGA’s Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies is pleased to host a forum program where Oconee County community members can share and discuss their ideas for solving this tough situation. Led by trained non-partisan moderators, forum participants will weigh the benefits, consequences, and associated tradeoffs of several possible approaches to tackling the national debt. The group will use a new National Issues Forums Institute discussion guide, A Nation in Debt: How Can We Pay the Bills? as the basis for the discussion. The approaches in the guide represent a broad range of perspectives from across the political spectrum. During the forum, participants may find some areas of agreement, just as they may likely clarify areas where their beliefs and perspectives differ greatly.

The Oconee community forum is part of a national conversation on the debt sponsored by the Kettering Foundation in concert with the National Issues Forums Institute and the Association of Centers for the Study of Congress. The ideas that participants share in the forum will become part of a national report that will chart American perspectives on fixing the national debt. The sponsors will share this report with lawmakers around the country. Learn more about this national initiative at

This Oconee community forum is free and all are welcome. There will be light refreshments. The forum will take place at the Oconee Public Library auditorium from 3-5p.m. The Oconee Public Library is located at 1080 Experiment Station Rd. Watkinsville, Georgia between the Post Office and the Health Department. Parking is free.

For more information about this program, please contact Jill Severn, Director of the Russell Forum at or 706-542-5766, or visit the Russell Forum Website at

Informal Forum (11/15/2011): A Nation in Debt

The $184,000 Question

What: Russell Forum for Civic Life in Georgia and University Housing Host Campus Community Forum on the National Debt
When: November 15, 2011 -- 6:30-8:30 p.m.
Where: Multipurpose Room, Building 1516

If you’ve got federal direct aid, you know how much you owe the government in student loans; and chances are you’ve heard talk about the national debt in the last few years. But have you ever wondered how much of that $14 trillion-and-change debt is on your shoulders? Currently, every American’s share of the national debt and unfunded liabilities like Medicare and Social Security is $184,000 and climbing. If nothing is done, the federal government will be spending every tax dollar on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and interest on the debt alone in 29 years. That will have to mean either much higher taxes or far fewer government services for the same tax level in future decades.

But what do we do about it?
Should we cut government programs?
Raise taxes?
What if taming the debt crisis makes the economy worse?

The Russell Forum for Civic Life in Georgia, a civic engagement program based at the UGA Libraries, and University Housing invite you to attend a campus community forum on the huge and growing national debt. At the forum, you will have a chance to share your thoughts and concerns on this very big and very expensive issue, hear what others have to say, and weigh the benefits, consequences and tradeoffs of some promising options for dealing with it. Trained moderators will help keep the forum conversation focused and encourage lively and civil participation. All perspectives are always welcome at Russell forums!

This campus community forum is part of a national initiative by the Kettering Foundation in concert with the National Issues Forums Institute and the Association of Centers for the Study of Congress. Your ideas will be part of a national report charting Americans’ perspectives on fixing the national debt. Sponsors will share this report with lawmakers around the country. Learn more at
Questions about this event? Call 706-542-5766 or email

Thursday, October 27, 2011

It's All About the Benjamins

In our previous post on soft money, we discussed in brief the modern history of campaign finance law in the United States, with particular focus on legislation that regulates contributions. With the 2012 presidential election season already setting fundraising records, we consider today the recent history of presidential campaign spending.

While it is difficult to find credible statistics on campaign spending prior to the Federal Election Campaign Act’s (FECA) 1974 amendments, it is no secret to most voters that the cost of presidential campaigns has far outpaced inflation in recent years. Candidates are increasingly judged before the earliest primary election contests by their fundraising ability above their debate skills, knowledge of contemporary issues, or dedication to public service. Readers might still be surprised, however, to learn just how dramatic the cost increases have been (especially since 2000).

Below is a table with statistics courtesy of the Center for Responsive Politics. The second column uses dollar figures unadjusted for inflation, while the third converts all sums into 2010 dollars and the third shows percentage increase in presidential campaign spending cycle-to-cycle using those real dollars:

Election Year

Nominal Dollars Spent by Presidential Candidates

Real Dollars Spent by Presidential Candidates

Change from Previous Campaign Cycle


$66.9 million

$253.3 million


$92.3 million

$241 million



$103.6 million

$214.6 million



$210.7 million

$383.3 million



$192.2 million

$294.9 million



$239.9 million

$329.9 million



$343.1 million

$430 million



$717.9 million

$821.6 million



$1,324.7 million

$1,340.5 million


Maybe (in part) as a result of FECA’s newly created public financing and stringent contribution disclosure systems, campaign spending decreased in real terms for Ronald Reagan’s two elections and (perhaps surprisingly) for the three-way 1992 contest between Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, and Ross Perot. But the highly negative 1988 campaign between Bush and Michael Dukakis saw a monstrous 79% real-dollar increase in presidential spending above 1984’s level, and a downright eye-popping 91% surge came in 2004 with the rise of advertising by independent “527 groups” free of some of the most burdensome campaign finance regulations imposed on parties and PACs by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, better known as McCain-Feingold.

By 2008, these outside groups had become a critical part of the electoral process, and pundits largely expect their influence to rise in the 2012 campaign. All told, the 2008 presidential race cost some 429% more in real terms than did that in 1976, even though both featured protracted primary contests for one party and fairly high voter interest. But what about fundraising and spending for next year’s presidential election?

Barack Obama’s campaign reached one million donors on October 17 and reported some $60 million cash on hand as of September 30 of this year, a major psychological milestone for a reelection effort fighting the tide of a sluggish economy and widespread voter discontent. Obama’s major Republican opponents are no fundraising slouches either. Mitt Romney’s campaign collected $14 million in the third quarter of 2011, with some $14.65 million cash on hand and, reportedly, a much smaller donor base than one million. Will the 2012 campaign top 2008’s $1.3 billion total tab? And what effects will the Supreme Court’s much-publicized 2010 decision Citizens United v. FEC have on “independent political expenditures” by corporate and labor groups seeking to elect certain candidates and promote associated causes? Check back with us in November 2012.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Soft Money

In campaign finance law, soft money is money donated to political parties rather than directly to candidates for public office. (Note: the latter kind of donation is, fittingly enough, dubbed hard money, and has traditionally faced far more numerous regulations than soft money.) In practice, campaign finance regulations were scarcely ever enforced until about 40 years ago, and since then the legislative history of the subject has, in essence, been one of struggle between increasingly regulatory Congresses and increasingly deregulatory courts.

A quick review of legislation regulating campaign finance…

The Tillman Act of 1907 constituted the first federal campaign finance law. It prohibits corporations from issuing direct contributions to national political campaigns and, interestingly, was recently challenged in federal court as infringing upon corporations’ rights to political speech as articulated in the landmark contemporary decision Citizens United v. FEC (2010).

The Federal Corrupt Practices Act of 1910 (FCPA) informed the nation’s longstanding pre-Watergate campaign finance regime. Amended in 1911 and 1925 to strengthen disclosure of all sums spent or donated in excess of $100, it was the first legislation to impose reporting standards and spending limits on federal campaigns. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld FCPA’s spending limits in United States v. Classic (1941), but stated that Congress’ power to regulate spending in primary elections applied only in specific cases. The national parties and wealthy donors found skirting FCPA regulations remarkably easy, setting up multiple committees and spending money in sums under $100 at a time to evade disclosure requirements.

The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (FECA) was enacted to repeal and replace the poorly enforced FCPA. In its initial incarnation, FECA merely sought to streamline disclosure requirements. It contained no contribution limits until amended in the post-Watergate transparency frenzy of 1974. Those amendments required candidates to disclose sources and sums of contributions over $200 and nearly all significant campaign expenditures, created the
Federal Election Commission, and established a limited public financing “matching funds” scheme for presidential candidates. FECA also placed strict limits on campaign spending and individual contributions, and prohibited donations from corporations, labor unions, national banks, government contractors, and foreign nationals.

The Supreme Court charted a moderate course with regard to the amended FECA in Buckley v. Valeo (1976), upholding contribution limits, public financing (funded by a voluntary $3 donation on individuals’ annual tax forms), and disclosure standards BUT striking down limits on campaign expenditures, stating that candidates for office retain their own freedom of speech. This arrangement stood mostly unchanged until the passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (2002).

Better known as McCain-Feingold, this legislation was a major revamp of FECA that for the first time imposed stiff regulations on soft money and relaxed contribution limits for candidates being severely outspent by personally wealthy opponents (the so-called “millionaire’s amendment”). McCain-Feingold also prohibited the broadcast of issue advocacy ads naming a candidate within 60 days of a general election or 30 days of a primary election.

In recent years, the Court has again shaken this recent status quo by overturning McCain-Feingold’s time-triggered issue ad prohibition in FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life (2007), its millionaire’s amendment provision in Davis v. FEC (2008), and its limits on corporate and union independent political expenditures – spending on political speech unrelated to direct candidate endorsement, which is still illegal under the Tillman Act – in Citizens United.

President Obama and reformist interest groups like Common Cause have since denounced the Citizens United ruling as an open invitation for corporate money to flood the electoral process, while pro-business organizations and free speech groups like the American Civil Liberties Union have tended to support the Court’s recent tack. In the early 2010s, the issue of campaign finance reform – of balancing anti-corruption priorities and the cause of perceived fairness with the interests of free political participation – thus stands at something of a political crossroads.