Allen is right about the need for public financing and such a movement
Here's my newspaper column on the subject.
>From the Brattleboro (VT) Reformer, 3/30/01
THE BATTLE BEGINS
By Marty Jezer
The McCain-Feingold bill that just passed in the Senate, is being
promoted, in the words of the Associated Press, as "the most sweeping
overhaul of campaign finance law in a quarter-century." While historically
true, at least in terms of the federal government which has not tackled
campaign finance reform since the Federal Election Campaign Acts of the
early 1970s, the bill, in substance, does very little to alter the system of
legalized bribery by which political candidates get elected. Even with
McCain-Feingold, rich and powerful special interests will still be able to
invest millions of dollars in elected officials and so, with their
contributions, dominate the political process. Still, passage of the bill
represents a breakthrough for reform, if for no other reason than it shows
the political power that the movement for campaign finance reform now has.
Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, the point man of the Republican
opposition, has long maintained that the American people are bored with
campaign finance reform and are satisfied with the current money-based
system. The passage of McCain-Feingold proves him wrong. Without public
pressure, the Senate would have voted against the bill. A number of Senate
Democrats abhor campaign finance reform and would have voted with their
Republican allies to defeat it, if opposition to reform was politically
viable. But the political climate no longer makes opposition tenable.
Democrats and moderate Republicans have to support the bill because of
pressure from their constituents.
The bill itself is minimally acceptable. While closing the soft money
loophole (huge donations given by corporations, unions, and other special
interest groups (ostensibly to support political parties), it raises the amo
unt of hard money (contributions made directly to candidates and parties).
Even as you read this, lawyers for both parties are working to find ways to
get around the bill's prohibitions.
Here are some of the obvious ways special interests will continue to
corrupt the political system. First, we can expect an increase in the amount
of Political Action Committee money going to candidates for federal
election. Expect, also, an increase in the increase the number of PACs as
special interest groups create additional vehicles to deliver their money.
Though banning soft money, McCain-Feingold doubles the amount of hard
money, from $1,000 to $2,000, that individuals can invest in politicians and
raises the aggregate limit they can give to politicians and parties from
$25,000 to $37,500. In reality, the limit is doubled per couple and
increased even more when the parents give money in their children's name,
already a common practice.
Hard money contributions invite "bundling," a system where a corporation
will collect the $2000 checks from executives and their spouses and children
and bundle them so that the candidate knows they come from the corporations.
A study by Public Campaign (www.publicampaign.org) found that for the 2000
election, 1/8 of one percent of voters gave maximum contributions of $1000
to individual candidates - most of them incumbents. The total of their
contributions was $380 million, or 44 percent of the total money given to
all federal candidates. Under McCain-Feingold, that total could be doubled.
Even this underestimates the influence of large contributors. Most big
contributors leverage their influence by giving money to candidates of both
parties. There is an implicit threat with each proffered gift. "If a
legislator doesn't do the interest group's bidding, the contribution can be
withdrawn for the next election cycle, with more money going to the
Now the ball is in George W. Bush's court. He's consistently spoken out
against McCain-Feingold but is obviously afraid of John McCain's stature,
not to mention his famous anger. Had McCain enough money to compete with
Bush on a level playing-field in the Republican presidential primary, he,
not Bush, would likely have been the Republican candidate for President. If
Bush signs McCain-Feingold he shows weakness to his rabidly ideological
right-wing supporters. If he opposes it, he emboldens McCain's increasingly
assertive "Bull Moose" challenge.
The most important amendment that went down to defeat was the "states'
rights" amendment introduced by Senators Paul Wellstone (MN), John Kerry
(MA) and Maria Cantwell (WA). It would have enabled individual states to
allow voluntary public financing (clean money) for federal elections. The
amendment was defeated 64-36, an indication of how opposed incumbent
Senators are to real reform that would neutralize their financial advantage.
States rights Republicans who, on principle, should have supported this
amendment, of course, opposed it. Like the states-righters on the U.S.
Supreme Court, they never let political principle stand in the way of their
quest for political power.
McCain-Feingold should not be the end of reform; it should be the
beginning. The public, which forced reluctant Senators to back the bill,
should be emboldened. Real reform would flatten the financial playing-field.
The Fannie Lou Hamer Project http://www.flhp.org>, an organization that
considers campaign finance reform to be an extension of civil and voting
rights, suggests the application of what it calls the "Fannie Lou Hamer
standard." The daughter of a Mississippi sharecropper, Ms. Hamer was a
leader in the fight for voting rights. She had a proven record of civic
accomplishment but no access to wealth and thus could not compete
effectively when she ran for U.S. Senate. Real reform would enable smart,
dynamic and articulate people, like Fannie Lou Hamer, to run on a level
financial playing-field against incumbent candidates financed by special
interest money. With due respect to John McCain and Russell Feingold, two of
the most honorable men in Congress, their bill doesn't meet that standard.
Now that McCain-Feingold has finally passed, it's time to mobilize for
real reform. Under the clean money system, candidates who agree to accept no
special-interest money, get public money to run their campaigns. The
playing-field is level and merit rather than money becomes the dominant
force in the political process. More than ten years ago, reporter Brooks
Jackson wrote in his book Honest Graft that Congress will not pass
meaningful reform unless it "feels the heat of grassroots pressure."
McCain-Feingold proves the power of the reform movement. It's time to up the
ante and build a movement for clean money that makes the ballot, and not the
dollar, the determinant factor in American politics.
Marty Jezer writes from Brattleboro, Vermont. He is the author of
biographies of Abbie Hoffman and Rachel Carson, and of The DARK AGES: LIFE
IN THE USA, 1945-1960. As a member of the Working Group on Electoral
Democracy, he helped conceptualize the clean money reform.
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Copyright 2001, Marty Jezer
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