Faculty Scholarship

Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 1998


During a Senate campaign more than four decades ago, revelations of a $5,000 contribution offer to Senator Karl Mundt of South Dakota precipitated a Senate investigation. At that time, Congress was considering legislation dealing with the regulation of natural gas. The discovery of the contribution offer ignited such a furor that it prompted President Eisenhower to declare he would veto any bill relating to natural gas regulation enacted under a cloud of suspicion. He carried out his threat, and it was another decade before Congress finally enacted legislation deregulating natural gas at the wellhead. Since that time, as the costs of campaigns have increased, the fear that campaign contributions will destroy the integrity of the legislative process has grown. In 1997 and the upcoming year, the focus on, and controversy over campaign contributions continues. Although the final figures from the 1996 campaign are difficult to assemble because many contributions are still being discovered and returned, it is generally accepted that between 1992 and 1996 there was a veritable explosion in campaign spending at all levels, especially in federal races. One study estimates that contributions during these four years rose thirty-three percent - from $1.6 billion to $2.2 billion.6 The impact of campaign finance on the regulatory process is a new twist. The regulatory role of the federal government was extremely limited a century ago. In fact, except for the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), very little state or federal regulation of business existed during the period that gave birth to the age of Lochnerism and laissez-faire economics. Today, in contrast, the regulatory role of the federal government is pervasive, indeed massive; prompting the flow of campaign contributions and generating louder calls for reform.