Press conference with national media on impact of new law
At an event Monday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Brigham Young University political scientists demonstrated that recent campaign finance reforms did not weaken political parties as previously expected.
Investigators from BYU's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy (CSED) released their report of the 2004 federal election cycle, "Dancing Without Partners: How Candidates, Parties, and Interest Groups Interact in the New Campaign Finance Environment."
David Magleby, Kelly Patterson and Quin Monson directed a team of academics who monitored campaigning in five Presidential battleground states, six U.S. Senate races and nine contests for the U.S. House of Representatives. Magleby is dean of the College of Family, Home and Social Sciences. Patterson and Monson are political science professors and the director and assistant director, respectively, of the CSED.
The trio earned a $600,000 grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts to gauge the impact of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. Some of the law's provisions altered political fundraising activities, including a ban on unlimited and undisclosed "soft money" donations from wealthy individuals and corporations. Since nearly half of the money spent in 2002 by national committees of the Republican and Democratic parties came in the form of soft money, political observers consequently expected the parties' campaign efforts to decline in 2004.
To the contrary, the researchers observed record levels of disclosed "hard money" funds filtering through the system in 2004. Offsetting the lost soft money, donations from individual voters surged in the last six months of the election. These war chests purchased unprecedented volumes of television and radio advertising, phone calls, person-to-person contacts and direct mail pieces.
"In 2004, being a targeted voter in Ohio, for example, was a very intense political experience that forced voters to pick and choose which mail, phone calls and broadcast ads to pay attention to," Magleby said.
In another example, the South Dakota Senate race that saw the defeat of minority leader Tom Daschle (D), spending reached $85.69 per voter, the most expensive per capita race in U.S. history.
In addition to describing candidate and party campaigns, the report sheds light on the activity of spending by interest groups, which in some circumstances were still permitted to spend soft money on elections. Democratic-leaning interest groups outspent Republican-oriented groups and sustained pro-Democratic presidential messages after Sen. John Kerry's campaign expended resources on the primary election.
Despite trailing behind in spending, two Republican-oriented groups aired ads that left their mark on the presidential race. An ad by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth put the Kerry campaign on the defensive and took it off message for most of two weeks. Another ad called "Ashley's Story" – aired by a group called Progress for America – depicted Bush in positive terms through the words of a young girl whose mother was killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
"The Democratic spending advantage was also counteracted by the efficiency and effectiveness of the 'ground war' waged by the Republican National Committee," Monson said, referring to the ability to precisely target voters more apt to lean toward Republican candidates.
As with previous election cycle studies, Magleby, Patterson and Monson will publish their full report in a forthcoming book. A similar report on the 2002 election was published earlier in 2004 by the Brookings Institution Press.
Writer: Joseph Hadfield