In 2004, a majority of citizens in Alachua County voted to change the limit for contributions to political campaigns from the typical $500 to $250.
This was sold to the voters as a way to “limit money’s influence in campaigns.”
It is a complete failure, and in reality has had detrimental effects upon the political system in Alachua County and should be cautionary tale for any other local jurisdiction considering similar changes.
1) It has not limited money spent in campaign in Alachua County.
Nothing in campaigns has reduced in cost. Postage, radio, television, printing or…. everything has become more expensive since 2004, and candidates will have to raise money to get their message out to voters. In fact, this change has done nothing to curb the amount of money in campaigns. It has failed. In fact the amount of money spent in local campaigns has increased – just transferred.
2) It has led to less transparency in campaigns.
Because candidates and organizations still desire to communicate with voters, they will find a way. We have seen the rise of 527s in local campaigns. We have seen the local political parties spend copious amounts on behalf of local candidates. We see the local parties donating to candidates. When the contributions and expenditures flow through these organizations, where the money is coming from is less transparent.
3) The Political Parties have become much more instrumental in campaigns.
For our purposes, donors can give what they can afford to political parties and political parties can spend on the behalf and contribute what they want to candidates. (yes, I am aware of Florida Statue 106.08) But for our purposes in Alachua County, few are going to ever bump up against these limits. So in a County dominated by one political party, it strengthens that party’s grasp on power. It has the effect of strengthening party machine politics.
4) It forces candidates to spend MORE time raising money.
I have witnessed this first hand. Local candidates have to spend 30-40% MORE time in raising the money needed to effectively campaign. More time raising money, less time to spend with voters, less time in direct voter contact.
5) It protects incumbents.
The starting point in politics? Name ID. Incumbents have advantages. By making it more difficult to raise money, it makes it more difficult for challengers to rise to take on incumbents.
It is logic – If resources are made more difficult, a challenger will have a more difficult time running an effective campaign. In a vacuum people will go with the familiar – the incumbents.
So in summary, this misplaced activism has no effect on the amount of money spent in campaigns, decreases transparency, increases one political party’s control, forces candidates to allocate MORE time to raising money, and protects incumbents.
If you are in power, you could not design a more perfect system to squash competition, protect the status quo, and handicap challengers.
It is time for this artificial cap to be removed. In fact, in my opinion, the limits should be raised with a continued focus on disclosure.