Robert Dreyfuss

Robert Dreyfuss is a senior correspondent for The American Prospect. He is the author of Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam. He can be reached through his website.

Recent Articles

The Turnout Imperative

Low voter participation favors conservatives. If liberals want to avoid a reprise of 1994 in 1998, they have to make turnout a top priority -- and fortunately some are already hard at work.

W ith no presidential contest to focus public attention, voter turnout this year promises to fall once again, to less than one-third of the electorate by some estimates—and low turnout generally means that blue-collar workers, the lower middle class, and the poor don't get to the polls. The last off-year election, 1994, saw fewer than 39 percent of eligible voters turn out to vote in the "Republican revolution." (That's compared to 55 percent turnout in 1992, when Ross Perot helped fire things up, and 47 percent in 1996, when Bob Dole helped cool things down.) A return to 1994 voting levels could help to entrench Republicans in both houses and keep liberal policies on the margins of debate. Unfortunately, recent history suggests poor turnout trends will persist. Traditional get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts have long been neglected by political parties and campaigns in favor of increasingly specialized tactics that resemble targeted marketing more than traditional politics...

Popping Contributions

Last year conservatives tried and failed to destroy the effectiveness of food and drug regulation. Now they say they want only modest FDA reforms. Watch out.

A s the 104th Congress stumbled to a close in 1996, defenders of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration breathed a collective sigh of relief. Despite intensive lobbying by the drug and medical device industries, legislation designed to scuttle the FDA ran aground on the shoals of partisan acrimony and voter unease. Weary from bruising budget battles, Republicans abandoned the measures and industry lobbyists regrouped. Now the lobbyists are back with a new series of proposals virtually certain to attract serious congressional attention this year. Some of the initiatives are relatively noncontroversial, the result of negotiations between industry and the FDA. Other proposals—the handiwork of privatization proponents and other antiregulation activists—would seriously impair the agency's ability to remain a strong and independent guardian of America's health. The outlook for the radical reforms hinges on the competing strategies of two industry segments—pharmaceutical and...

Reform Gets Rolling

With campaign finance reform stalled in Washington, the real work of cleaning up American politics has shifted to the states. Look at what’s happened in Vermont, Massachusetts, and—of all places—Arizona.

Last November, voters in Massachusetts and Arizona added the latest tiles in a growing national mosaic of state-based campaign finance reform efforts. It all began in 1996, when Maine voters passed a sweeping reform plan aimed at replacing special interest money with a system of voluntary public financing for state elections. In 1997, defying the conventional wisdom that politicians will never vote to replace the system of campaign contributions that elected them in the first place, the Vermont legislature passed a similar measure. Then in November 1998, two-thirds of Massachusetts voters opted for radical surgery rather than tinkering to cure their money-in-politics ills, putting into place a system modeled on the so-called "Clean Money" reform adopted by their New England neighbors. But the most consequential vote may have come the same day out West, when a bare majority of voters in the conservative but quirky state of Arizona proved that publicly financed elections were not merely...

Reform Beyond the Beltway

While Congress is deadlocked, real campaign finance reform is moving ahead in the states.

B eltway insiders generally treat public financing of congressional elections as a joke—it's politically unthinkable, they say. Senator Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican, seems to revel in denouncing the idea (along with any other proposition for campaign finance reform), with no visible political damage to himself. Even the half-a-loaf reform measure sponsored by Arizona Republican John McCain and Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold studiously avoids any mention of public financing. Yet while reform has foundered in Washington—not a single bill has been signed into law since the 1970s—many states across the country have moved ahead. In fact, since 1992, 23 states have enacted campaign finance reform measures. In 1996 alone, voters in Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, and Nevada voted in favor of ballot initiatives affecting campaign finance, and another wave of initiatives is building for 1998. Many of these state efforts are...

Harder Than Soft Money

The explosion of issue advocacy -- money spent by individuals and independent groups to support political causes -- threatens to make even an outright ban on "soft" money irrelevant. Worse, much of what passes for "issue advocacy" is really covert campaign financing. Still worse, it can't be regulated.

A fter years of reformer hand-wringing, legislative efforts on Capitol Hill, and erratic enforcement by the Federal Election Commission (FEC), campaign finance law remains riddled with loopholes. Everyone knows the most notorious loophole: Starting at a trickle about a decade ago ($12 million in 1984) and building to flood crest in 1996 (with $262 million flowing into the coffers of the two parties), the river of "soft" money has become the most obvious target of campaign finance reform. Although the law prohibits corporations, banks, and labor unions from contributing money to candidates (except via strictly regulated political action committees, or PACs) and prevents them from making independent expenditures on behalf of a candidate's election, nothing prevents them from giving vast sums to the parties. So, starting in the 1980s, they did give money. Lots of it. And while the majority of soft money flows from businesses and wealthy individuals to the Republican Party, the Democratic...