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Current Issue : Spring 2009


Because the Supreme Court has ruled that restrictions on parties' contributions and coordination with their candidates are constitutional, the only recourse is to prevail upon Congress to change the law. As difficult as this will be (given that current law heavily favors incumbents), it is the only way that our electoral system can be made more competitive and the benefits of that competition made available to the American people. Perhaps the logic of the case will have some impact. Since parties are now limited to raising and spending only hard money, but can spend unlimited amounts of such funds "independently" of their candidates, why not allow unlimited spending in coordination with their candidates. This would let parties and their candidates work together more sensibly and effectively and would strengthen the role of parties in our democracy.

Our campaign finance system is now seriously broken. Although it may not be in the interest of incumbents to fix it—that is, to eliminate the current restrictions on what the parties can do to assist their candidates—there is no question that the necessary repairs are a responsibility and obligation of our senators and representatives. Now, it's up to Congress.

Under these circumstances, a total overhaul of a failed system would seem to be required, but in fact only one major change in current law is necessary: the elimination of all restrictions on the ability of political parties to finance the campaigns of their candidates.

This article is based on excerpts from a recently published book by Peter J. Wallison and Joel M. Gora titled, Better Parties, Better Government: A Realistic Program for Campaign Finance Reform (AEI Press 2009).
Professor Joel M. Gora

Professor Joel M. Gora has devoted his entire professional career to serving the public interest. Following summer internships with the NAACP and the ACLU while a student at Columbia Law School, from which he graduated with honors, Professor Gora served for two years as the Pro Se Law Clerk for the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. After that clerkship, he worked as a full-time lawyer for the ACLU for nine years, first as National Staff Counsel, then Acting Legal Director and Associate Legal Director. During his ACLU career, he worked on dozens of U.S. Supreme Court cases, including many landmark rulings. Chief among them was the case of Buckley v. Valeo, the Court's historic 1976 decision on the relationship between campaign finance restrictions and First Amendment rights. Professor Gora was one of the lawyers who argued the case against such restrictions. Since that time, he has worked, on behalf of the ACLU, on almost every one of the important campaign finance cases to come before the High Court. At Brooklyn Law School, Professor Gora has served on the faculty since 1978, teaching constitutional law, civil procedure and a number of other related courses and serving as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs from 1993 to 1997 and again from 2002 to 2006. He is the author of a number of books and articles dealing with First Amendment and other constitutional law issues. He also served for more than 25 years on the board of directors of the New York Civil Liberties Union, and as one of its general counsel.