[sixties-l] public financing/McCain-Feingold.

From: Marty Jezer (mjez@sover.net)
Date: Tue Apr 03 2001 - 19:45:30 EDT

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    Allen is right about the need for public financing and such a movement
    exists. See

    Here's my newspaper column on the subject.

    >From the Brattleboro (VT) Reformer, 3/30/01


    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
    legislator's opponent.

        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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