Professor Issacharoff has asked an important and probing question about the sources of the political parties’ travails and the danger to them that their key functions will be “outsourced.” He drives in the direction of an important point—that we would do well to concentrate on making parties within the electoral process function more effectively and efficiently, and judge legal reform from the perspective of whether it aids or hinders that objective. This is a program defined by a particular view of the role that parties should play. Although Professor Issacharoff’s project does not involve reform recommendations, it follows that a reform responsive to his concerns would seek to move the parties closer to a more commanding, integrated role.
The difficulty facing such a reform program is chiefly one of accomplishing by law changes in political organization and practices exacerbated but not in the first instance caused by the legal regime. In considering what might be done for parties, the first question to be asked is one of the parties’ current role and capacities, without baseline assumptions about what we would wish or insist that they be. The second question is the reform model that, without prejudgment, is most appropriate in sorting out the party role.
A model appropriate to this purpose cannot be the one most in use for the better part of the post-Watergate period. Its goal has been to deter corruption, or the appearance of corruption in government. The alternative put forward here assumes that we will continue to have regulation for this purpose, but that there is also a place for regulation of the electoral process itself, to improve its efficient functioning. In the case of parties, this would mean reform with the aim to make it possible for parties to successfully play the role for which they are best suited, not the role we prefer for them.