“Why is it that almost 40% of the representatives in the US Senate are millionaires?”
This was the question that motivated first-year student Kaija Lazda to begin a research project comparing campaign financing in the United States and in Germany. As a future German Studies major with a strong interest in political science and international relations, Kaija used her knowledge about German contemporary politics and her language skills to read through the policies of the German Bundestag and to research background material on German websites in addition to researching the US side of the matter.
In a clear and concise presentation Kaija then led the audience through her findings. One of the most intesting aspects of her investigation of US campaign financing structures was a comparison of the contributions by PACs in the 2008 presidential campaign with the role PACs have played in the 2012 campaign sofar. The millions spent by PACs in 2008 look miniscule in comparison to this year’s numbers.
One of the main differences between the US and Germany is that in Germany the government contributes almost all of the election financing and parties–not individuals–are funded based on the percentage of votes the received in the previous election. This is not to say that donations do not play a role in German politics, and the country has certainly seen its share of scandals in the last couple of years. However, as Kaija pointed out, the wealth of a candidate is generally viewed with more suspicion than in the United States.
Kaija acknowledged that her research did not yield the clear-cut superiority of one campaign-financing model over the other that she had envisioned at the outset. While she generally considers the German model to allow for a better political representation of all social groups, she does not see it as the perfect model either. Kaija plans on continuing her research during the ASC in Germany seminar in May and will use some of her findings in future IR and Political Science courses.