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BYU dean's research cited by Supreme Court justices upholding campaign finance law

David Magleby's study of soft money informed both sides in split ruling

When the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision Wednesday upholding the controversial law that bans "soft money" contributions to political parties, the Court cited research by David Magleby, Brigham Young University distinguished professor of political science and dean of BYU's College of Family, Home and Social Sciences.

During the 1998, 2000 and 2002 election cycles, he worked with a consortium of scholars to monitor several of the most competitive U.S. House and Senate races. That research is summarized in two edited books and a third to be released in January. (Reports on this research are available through BYU's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at http://csed.byu.edu.

Magleby's research was important to the Court because much campaign spending in recent years has been outside the disclosure requirements of federal election law. Thanks to this research, Magleby was asked to provide expert testimony when the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act was challenged, and he was deposed by lawyers for both sides.

After Wednesday's ruling, Magleby told National Public Radio's "Talk of the Nation," "It's a watershed decision that has the potential to redefine campaign finance for a generation, unless Congress revisits the law. It's a major victory for the reformers."

Looking toward the next election cycle, Magleby told the national audience that, even though the ruling upheld limitations on issue advocacy over the airwaves, interest groups and parties can still use direct mail, telephone outreach and other personal contacting. "I expect to see in 2004 a big surge in direct voter communication."

Research led by Magleby, noted as "Magleby Expert Report," was cited twice in the majority opinion written by Justices John Paul Stevens and Sandra Day O'Connor and again in Justice Antonin Scalia's dissenting opinion. The justices were interested in his accounts of political groups using soft money to bypass restrictions on direct financing of candidates. In a footnote, Stevens and O'Connor wrote: "Some of the actors behind these groups frankly acknowledged that 'in some places it's much more effective to run an ad by the 'Coalition to Make Our Voices Heard' than it is to say 'paid for by the men and women of the AFL-CIO.' (Magleby Expert Report)"

Scalia cited Magleby's figures when reviewing the spending on elections in 2000, about $3.9 billion.

Kelly D. Patterson, chair of BYU's Political Science Department, noted how unique it is for a political scientist to play a direct role in a major public policy decision.

"It is remarkable for a political scientist to help shape in such a significant fashion the way in which the Supreme Court thinks about campaign finance reform," Patterson said.

That was a sentiment held outside BYU, as well.

"Up until Magleby wrote about this, people accepted the old rules," said Arthur Lupia, professor of political science at the University of Michigan. "His research really set the stage for the subsequent social scientific work that allowed the Justice Department to prove that voters weren't differentiating between ads paid for by candidates and ads paid for by soft money. When you get to the courts, you need solid evidence, and that's what David provided."

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Photo by Performing Arts Management

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