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Campaign Finance Reform


Read the remarks from:
Curtis Gans

  • Round Two

    Sen. John McCain
  • Round Two

  • Remarks From Susan Tolchin

    Part Two Of Five

    Good Excuses and Bad Governance

    By Susan J. Tolchin
    April 2, 1997

    It is no mystery for those of us who live, work and ruminate inside the Beltway. We understand the disconnect between scandals and policy; or why the issue of campaign finance seems so bogged down despite the widespread public horror at the daily selling of the Republic. But the public at large is mystified by the massive foot-dragging of their leaders. Try these excuses on for size, and let's debunk them together:

    Excuse #1. THE ISSUE IS TOO COMPLICATED.

    That worked with health care reform, albeit the 80 percent public mandate handed to Clinton when he took office on this issue. The bill swelled to 2,000 pages, too complex for ordinary Americans to understand, we were told. We'll need at least l0 years to sort through the complexities of campaign finance reform to satisfy all constituencies, and produce a clean bill.

    Americans are much smarter than their leaders give them credit for being. They understand snake oil when they see it, and if they don't, let's remind them that the NAFTA and GATT bills were both over 2,000 pages, and sailed through the Congress with very little opposition. Social Security reform was debated for only one day, and the nation's entire welfare system was overhauled with the hearty support of both branches of government.

    Harsh reality tells us that although politicians may not like things the way they are, they fear the unknown. Campaign finance, they predict, will help incumbents; therefore, it is better to dissemble and stall reform than to move forward.

    Excuse #2. PUBLIC PRESSURE WILL CORRECT THE SYSTEM. WE DON'T NEED NEW LEGISLATION, OR HEAVEN FORBID, NEW REGULATION.

    Another version of let the market decide. Public outrage is so intense that PACs will recede, and political candidates on their own will follow the example of former Senator William Proxmire and not accept contributions; instead, they will run 'clean' campaigns spending less than $l00 of their own money.

    Good luck. That may work in Wisconsin, but if your opponent has raised millions of dollars to run against you in a hotly contested Senate race in California, 'good government' may not be enough of a hedge to hold on to your seat.

    A perfect reality check appeared in a front-page story by Robert Schlesinger, in The Hill, on April 2, 1997, documenting the tawdry truth that despite the scandals, congressional fund-raising has "reached record heights" in 1997. To wit: the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) raised $3 million in January and February alone, while the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) toted up $2.5 million.

    Who wants to kill that golden goose?

    Excuse #3. THE MCCAIN-FEINGOLD BILL IS DEAD IN THE WATER. WHY USE UP PRECIOUS POLITICAL CAPITAL TO FIGHT FOR IT?

    If you follow the newspaper stories recently, the bill's advocates are finding very small crowds for their whistle-stop efforts to drum up support. That may be true, but voters have long memories. Smart politicians should start looking forward to the elections of 1998 and 2000, when campaign finance will pit those who were profiles in courage against the legions who fought for the status quo. This will be the top issue for years to come. In fact, some Republicans, according to hearsay, are already busily enlarging pictures of Gore in the Buddhist temple in readiness for the next presidential campaign.