Campaign finance laws benefit voters

(U-WIRE) COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Informed voters have one more tool in their arsenal of knowledge about political candidates and political action committees. A bill signed into law on July 1 by President Clinton ended the ability for PACs to run television, newspaper and radio advertisements without disclosing the source of the money for the advertisements.
Called “527” groups after the federal tax code that freed them from paying taxes on money contributed to them, PACs have been labeled advocacy groups. Traditionally, PACs have not been considered to contribute to electioneering, and therefore they did not have to report how they were spending their funds and where they obtained those funds.
However, many of these groups produce mudslinging propaganda-type commercials about candidates. With the new law, PACs that have more than $25,000 in expense receipts will have to offer their financial records to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) four times a year. The law calls for the disclosure when the individual donations to the group are over $200 or the group spends more than $500 on campaign-related issues. By setting the bar so low, the law will affect almost every PAC. The new law also stipulates that a PAC must notify the IRS within 24 hours of its formation. The new law is a promising step in the fight for campaign finance reform and the fight to educate voters on who is responsible for these mudslinging advertisements.
This law will help new voters, including college students, become more informed about which PACs support which candidates by requiring the groups to disclose to the public which groups sponsor malicious, and often damaging, advertisements. That knowledge will allow voters to be better informed about how money they donate to PACs is spent and whether the PACs also support a candidate the voters do not. Furthermore, voters will know if a candidate they favor is gathering funds from industries or groups the voters do not support. With this new information, voters will be able to voice their political opinions more accurately when they cast their votes in November. The new law puts the power of information into the hands of voters and takes it from special interest groups.
Even as relative novices to politics, college students do, however, make up one of the fastest-growing percentages of American voters. The importance of college students is evident in candidates’ regular appearances on programs such as MTV’s “Choose or Lose.” With an increasing focus on college-age voters comes the added pressure for PACs to court the issues that affect young adults. By knowing how these groups operate, young voters can take a stand about many important issues. For example, they can let the candidates and the political system know that they will not stand for sensationalized advertisements that are produced by many PACs. This new law gives young voters an additional tool in working against the myth that college students like to party and do not care about the issues. By using the knowledge that is made possible by this new law, voters, including college students, can tell these groups and their backers that PACs do not control the outcome of the campaign. This law will force candidates to take a stand on the issues that affect college-age voters such as health care reform and national defense. Candidates will have to address topics without the hidden aid of PACs. By adding this pressure to candidates and PACs, voters will be better informed on candidates’ true opinions, not propaganda pushed by the PACs.
Forcing PACs to inform the IRS and the public about their expenditures on candidates’ campaigns gives the voters more power in the political system. Although the new law cannot completely clean the election process in America, it is a start. Talk of campaign finance reform has been floating around in both houses of Congress, but the new law is the first of its kind in more than two decades. The most important effect of the new law is the impact it will have at election time. If the voters use the additional knowledge made available by this law, campaign finance reform has an even better chance of becoming a reality. With the new law in hand, voters will fill out their election ballots in November with the confidence that their decisions are more informed than ever before.
Brieanne Porter’s column originally appeared in Texas A&M’s The Battalion on July 11.