Page 20


age throughout the state, valuable exposure that did not cost him a dime. Clements, in contrast, began his campaign as a virtual unknown to the Texas voter. For Clements to be competitive with Hill, he had to outspend him particularly in a state which had never once, under its current constitution, elected a Republican to the governorship or any other statewide, non-federal office. Limits on campaign spending Taking into account the campaign expenditures of defeated primary candidates \(most notably those of Gov. test in Texas cost in excess of $13 million this year. That works out to about $5.70 for each general election voter. As a result, some observers of and participants in Texas politics have called for the imposition of spending limits on statewide campaigns. But, despite the gut-level appeal of holding down campaign expenditures by force of law, there are important obstacles. The first of these is constitutional, and the second is the likelihood that the consequences would defeat the very purpose of the supposed reform. The U.S. Supreme Court in 1976 struck down a federal law that limited the amount of money a candidate or his family could spend in his own behalf. The opinion did not cover expenditures made by campaign committees, but it is not likely that the high court would let stand a two-tiered system in which wealthy individuals were unlimited in what they could spend while campaign committees organized to support candidates of average means were limited. Even if expenditure limitations could pass constitutional muster, the consequences of spending limits should trouble careful observers of the political system. The most immediate effect would be to strengthen the already heavy advantage of incumbency. Voters rarely ‘elect someone they haven’t heard of or know little about, and incumbents have a significant advantage over challengers by virtue of their ability to command the attention of the news media. Most incumbents become adept at maximizing free media exposure, and in many communities the media pander to them, publicizing inconsequential “accomplishments” and ignoring failures or unpopular votes or policy stands. Another likely consequence of limiting campaign expenditures would be to peretuate the status of minority parties in one-party states. In Texas that means Republicans would be even further disadvantaged in their competition with the dominant Democrats. A minority party has to overcome the heavy burden of historical voting patterns, and its candidates are often total unknoWns who have never before held or sought elective office. Extra campaign spending is neces 10 FEBRUARY 2, 1979 sary to compensate for these disadvantages. Spending ceilings would also tend to perpetuate and enlarge the class of “professional politicians.” Even more so than now, serious contenders for major public office would be those who already hold the office sought or who hold one office and are seeking to move on to another. Holding public office would come still closer to being a lifetime career for even more elected officials. In a recent election, one 30-year incumbent chastised his younger opponentfor trying to take “my job,” solid evidence that he long ago forgot that it’s the people’s job which he held as trustee. Constraints on expenditures might also add impetus to the trend toward recruitment of men and women who have developed familiar names in other fields of endeavor, notably entertainment and sports. Candidate recruitment would focus more than ever on fame rather than the candidate’s ability to serve effectively if elected. Campaign waste Some critics of Texas campaigns complain that a lot of money is simply wasted. That is undoubtedly true. Al: though major statewide campaigns are now multi-million dollar enterprises, they are often managed as if they were nickel-and-dime operations. Better management could produce more efficient and less costly campaigns. A prominent campaign manager said, “I’m willing to admit that as much as half of what we spent was wasted.” But he added: “The only problem is, I don’t know which half.” Alternatives to spending limitations The argument for imposing spending limits on campaigns has its superficial attractions, but it suffers from a significant flaw: it ignores the reality of the candidate’s need to spend. Reformers should attack the problem at its source by finding ways to reduce the need to spend and by helping candidates raise what they need without having to rely upon a small number of large contributors. One small step forward could be made merely by shortening the campaign period. The filing deadline now falls in the first week of February, and the primary comes in the first week of May. Both dates should be moved closer to November to eliminate the need to maintain campaign staffs and organizations for so long a period. Few Texans remember that primary elections were customarily held in late summer until then-U.S. Sen. Lyndon Johnson commanded the Legislature to change the date in an effort to bolster his 1960 presidential campaign. That Johnson legacy no longer serves anyone well, especially with the Republican Party’s emergence as a factor of importance in the general election. Other approaches to the spending problem include making time on broadcast media available to candidates without charge and making available a limited free mailing privilege. But between the idea and the operational fact come several awkward questions, such as: how do you decide who is eligible for such aid? The best way to help candidates raise money without having to rely upon a few big contributors is to expand the income tax credit an individual can receive for making a campaign contribution. A dollar-for-dollar credit \(rather than the would make broadly-based fundraising much easier, as’ would raising the maximum credit allowed. The clear advantage of the tax incentive is that it leaves the burden of raising money on the candidate and leaves the choice of contributing with, the taxpayer-voter. Problems of determining who is and who is not a “legitimate” candidate and what is and what is not a “qualified” political party are entirely avoided, and the expense and hazard of government intrusion in the competition between candidates are by-passed. Implications for the democratic system Money is a dominant factor in American elective politics. Some people would say “the” dominant factor. Although candidates clearly need substantial amounts of money to reach the voters, that need carries disturbing implications for our democratic system. Makers of public policy must guarantee that sufficient resources are available to allow campaigns to be waged competitively regardless of incumbency or party affiliation. And opportunities should be provided for would-be candidates to have their chances for success determined by their ability to serve in office with distinction and integrity rather than by their bankroll. This is not to say that there could or should be no place at all for fundraising in electoral politics. But neither should able competitors for public office be kept out of contention just because they cannot raise enough money to pay the high price of being competitive. The challenge for policy-makers will be to devise a solution that reduces the need of candidates to spend, and makes it easier for them to raise what they need, without presenting other barriers to the entry of competent candidates into the political arena. Doug Harlan is a scholar in residence at Trinity University in San Antonio. He ran as a Republican candidate for Congress from Texas’ 21st district in 1972 and 1974.