By Jack Moczinski
July 21, 1997: The Senate investigation of Clinton's and the Republicans' fundraising during the 1996 election once again brings up the issue of campaign finance reform. As the Senate committee drags out the bodies and laments over the deplorable state of our political system, senators' crocodile tears for reform will be joined by their junkie cry: Somebody please stop me from raising money!
At the same time come demands from around the nation for campaign finance reform. Saying you can't take money out of politics is not en vogue now, but it's true. It's like guarding Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan--you can't stop him, you can only hope to contain him.
Our public officials know all too well that no changes to the system will truly eliminate money's influence from campaigns. Yet they effectively lament a campaign finance system that they help undermine. All U.S. senators and representatives know the pliability of soft money regulations, and the majority of them (and their respective fundraisers) bend Federal Elections Commission (FEC) regulations.
American democracy is competitive, and you will never convince a candidate or a cause that they shouldn't do everything they can to win. Does that mean they will lie, cheat and steal? Of course. There will always be crooks in the system, but, hopefully, we'll have the laws to catch them.
That is why the national campaign reform effort should only attempt to tighten up the regulations and enforcement capabilities of the Federal Elections Commission. Campaign contribution reports must be detailed, filed on a timely basis and immediately made available to the public. If irregularities are found, the FEC should be able to administer fines quickly so that penalties are handed down while a campaign is in progress.
FEC decisions regarding federal campaigns sometimes occur more than three years after the end of the campaign. Campaigns know that they can violate FEC laws and not feel the pain until years later, when all eyes are off them.
Also, reform must include increases in staffing capability at the FEC. Currently, they are horribly understaffed, which seriously slows down their response time to inquiries and cases. It's not popular to increase the size of a federal agency these days, but I believe that taxpayers are willing to pay a little extra to have free and fair elections.
We do need to reform the system by which individual contributors and corporations can donate tens of thousands of dollars to political committees and have those contributions turned around to candidates. But the $1,000 limit on individual donations to federal races now in place works well. Campaign professionals know that to ask congressional or senate campaigns to reduce their individual contributions from $1,000 to $100 is just plain silly.
Think about it: During a campaign, most U.S. Senate candidates spend 20 to 25 hours a week raising money. They go for the big money first by rounding up the $1,000 contributions and work their way downward. If you limit contributions to $100 each, the candidate will simply spend 10 times the effort and time raising money at $100 a pop instead of $1,000. That means more time campaigning outside of the office and less time with you, the voter.
But limiting contributions to $100 each would take away the undue influence of $1,000 big-money contributors, say supporters. Sure. But instead we'll see an incredible amount of bundled $100 contributions coming from what used to be $1,000 donors. Every CEO or trial attorney will find a way to have every secretary, vice president, law clerk or others in their office give $100. So, instead of seeing $1,000 come from one individual, you will see $1,000 or maybe $1,500 coming from that individual's group of friends and employees.
We hear the plaintive wail of do-gooder groups such as New Mexicans for Campaign Reform for candidates to sign unreasonable pledges to limit spending. That's like telling Notre Dame's Fighting Irish that the next time that they play the Vassar College Brewers, they have to be nice and can't win by more than six points. Our democratic system is competitive and politicians are in it to win. That's what makes it fun. But tweaking the system so that it works better is the fair thing to do.
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