to dampen negative ads
By Andy Brack
S.C. Statehouse Report
OCT. 6, 2002 - - There's one thing most voters agree on: They don't
like negative ads.
In this election season, South Carolinians have been pummeled by
more negative ads than any time in history. Whether on flag-burning
or Social Security, negative ads are making TV stations rich.
At a political forum of analysts this week at the College of Charleston,
students wondered why negative ads couldn't be stopped. There are
- Negative ads work. Parties and campaigns run critical
ads because they leave a lasting impression in voters' minds.
Even if they hate the negative ad, they remember it. And that
could influence their vote - - or cause them to become so frustrated
they don't vote (which is what consultants often want too).
- Donations are a form of free speech. In a landmark Supreme
Court decision 26 years ago, the high court equated money with
free speech. In other words, they ruled it was unconstitutional
to keep candidates from spending what they wanted, including on
Bottom line: Don't look for the election season slew of campaign
ads to stop anytime soon. But maybe something can be done to tone
down the negativity.
Because campaign ads cost money, perhaps going after the root of
the problem - - the money - - will result in a withering of negative
Here's why: today's candidates don't pay for the bulk of negative
ads. Generally, they're funded by political parties and outside
groups, both of which get millions of "soft money" donations
that don't have to be reported.
If you simply get rid of soft money to political parties as some
suggest, creative campaign operatives will figure out loopholes
to get money back into the system. In other words, if you turn off
one spigot, the flow of money will eventually get started by creating
At the other end of the spectrum is an alternative being pushed
by Common Cause, the League of Women Voters of South Carolina and
the S.C. Progressive Network. They want public financing of campaigns.
Their proposal calls for candidates to limit fund-raising activities
in return for grants from a pool of money set aside to pay for campaigns.
The coalition says it would cost less than a penny a day per voting-age
citizen to generate the $5 million needed to seed the fund.
A third mainstream alternative being actively considered in South
Carolina is a requirement for political parties and outside groups
to disclose funds received for influencing an election, just like
people do now with contributions to candidates.
This "full disclosure" would not get rid of money in
the process, but would shine light into the process to allow voters
to see who was pulling the strings.
House Republicans say such campaign finance reform is their "first
order of business" in the next legislative session. To date,
they've failed twice. They first failed in the 1999-2000 session
because a campaign finance reform bill was vetoed by Gov. Jim Hodges,
who said it wasn't tough enough. Then after input from a Hodges-appointed
blue-ribbon panel that recommended legislation similar to what Hodges
vetoed earlier, the General Assembly failed to reach agreement on
a bill on the last day of the 2002 session.
House Speaker David Wilkins' continuing push for campaign finance
reform is laudable. But he and his legislative leaders aren't doing
it just to be white knights. They've also got a political agenda.
By putting sunshine into the political funding process, they hope
to be able to curb big donations, such as millions in video poker
money that helped to elect Hodges.
The General Assembly should move forward with sweeping reform to
require disclosure of what's going on with campaign financing. Let's
just make sure it's something that will fix nagging problems, not
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