Monday, April 10, 2006

Campaign Finance Reform and Incumbency

Janice Bowling, a Republican who ran for a seat in Congress against Lincoln Davis in 2004, wrote on op-ed for The Tennessean disagreeing with the commonly held notion that campaign finance reform benefits incumbents.

Ms. Bowling begins the column by referencing a campaign finance reform case from Vermont that she says will be heard "later this month." The case was actually heard in the middle of March, but we don't know if the error is Ms. Bowling's, or if it is that of a newspaper that sat on her column until it was partly outdated.

Nonetheless, Ms. Bowling's opposition to campaign finance reform rests primarily upon her own experience. In her campaign, she was outspent by Mr. Davis, she says, by a factor of 4 to 1. In that light, finance reform that would create an equal playing field would be preferable, she contends. However, what Ms. Bowling ignores is the possibility that her inability to raise money in part reflected a lack of support for her campaign. People who don't believe that a candidate has a credible chance of winning are unlikely to support the campaign financially. The right of Mr. Davis's supporters to express their preference for his candidacy should also not be ignored. Ms. Bowling is entitled to denigrate their support as representing government of, by, and for money, but many of those supporters simply thought they were participating in the democratic process.

In spite of what Ms. Bowling says, even had she raised an equal amount of money as Mr. Davis, it may not have helped. She is right to criticize gerrymandered districts. Given districts drawn to favor incumbents, and given the advantages of incumbency in running for election, challengers usually need to be able to outspend their opponents to have a chance at victory.

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