Campaign Voucher Plan of 'Modest' Help

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A new study from the nonprofit Campaign Finance Intitute (CFI) found that a proposed broadcaster-funded voucher program for campaign ads would "probably would not produce a radical change in congressional election outcomes, but would help, at least modestly, to improve democratic debate and accountability."

The voucher program was proposed in the Our Democracy, Our Airwaves Act. which was intoduced in the last Congress by veteran campaign reformers John McCain (R-ARiz.) and Russell Feingold (D-Wis.).

The Act would provide matching funds for airtime of up to the first $250 in contributions to House and Senate candidates. The vouchers would be financed by an income-based fee on broadcasters.

Among the upsides the study found to the bill were that it would:

  • Generate a "modest" bump in challengers’ competitiveness and share of general election campaign receipts.
  • Create a "snowball effect" for some challengers, parlaying extra ad exposure into more money and more competitive races.
  • Raise the visibility of "less well-financed candidates and their positions"

Among the downsides, said the study:

  • The Senate voucher formula could give greater advantage to incumbents in large states.
  • A provision permitting “safe” candidates to exchange their vouchers with political parties at face value was likely to be underutilized, since parties prefer to spend without restrictions.

CFI anticipates that a revised version of the bill will be introduced this month.

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