FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Campaign Finance Reform Sham

One of the hardest decisions for citizen reform groups to make when supporting legislation that is pending for years is how much weakening they will tolerate before they break away in opposition.

Campaign finance reform in Congress, after years of struggle by coalition groups such as Common Cause and Public Citizen, passed and was unenthusiastically signed into law by President Bush last month. Popularly known as the McCain-Feingold bill (after Republican Senator John McCain and Democratic Senator Russ Feingold), this original reform of corrupt money in politics has been subjected to serious attrition. Originally, it provided for some free television and radio time for ballot-qualified candidates vying for federal office. That and other provisions were dropped in order to pick up support for passage — so much so that some observers began calling the legislation the “Cain-Gold” bill.

The core of the new law is banning “soft money” — those unlimited hundreds of millions of dollars mostly from business interests that flow only into the coffers of the political parties. But in return, McCain-Feingold had to agree to doubling “hard money” that any person could give directly to members of Congress or Presidential candidates. Beginning after the 2002 elections, individuals can give $4,000 for an entire election cycle (primary and general election) instead of $2000.

As Congressional opponents and their outside patrons chipped away at the legislation during the past four years, the outside reform groups, which have been striving for reform of the auction system of elections for over two decades, continued to bite their lips and remained in support. First, it was half a loaf is better than nothing; then it was a quarter of a loaf. Butthen it became an unwillingness to turn against the legislation, given all those thousands of dedicated hours and commitment to the idea of reform that the bill clung to in their minds.

Well, one of the long-time citizen organizations concluded that the erosion of the legislation was too much to take. The U.S. Public interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) on March 20th denounced and opposed McCain-Feingold.

In its statement, U.S. PIRG said:

“In a climate of spiraling fundraising, and in the wake of the Enron debacle, Congress had the opportunity to pass real campaign finance reform that would have reduced the influence of money on American democracy. Unfortunately, politicians were not up to the task. . . the Senate passed a soft money ‘ban’ riddled with loopholes and actually increased the amount that the wealthiest individuals can contribute to candidates.”

The partially student funded PIRG predicted that “hard money will skyrocket, soft money will go to state and local parties and independent expenditures, candidates will not spend less time fundraising, and big donors will still buy election results to put their favored candidates in office.”

The groups also predicted that President George W. Bush will become the first major party candidate to refuse to accept voluntary spending limits in the 2004 general election. One Republican campaign manager has predicted that Bush could easily raise $500 million in hard dollars — an unheard of amount.

It was not easy for U.S. PIRG to oppose the bill. But there are limits to continual concessions that defeat the purpose of the legislation. Watch for a huge increase in complexity in the federal election rules which already necessitate a very expensive software program merely for candidatecompliance. Soon small party candidates will not be able to afford the compliance costs, never mind the ballot access hurdles, just to have a chance to compete.

Badly boomerang-prone as the new law is, it did break the myth that no campaign finance reform could ever get through Congress and be signed by a Republican President. Even if it took a myth of a bill to achieve that result.

Senator Russell Feingold told me last year that he is going to introduce a bolder public financing of public elections bill soon after the McCain-Feingold bill passes. That would certainly simplify the rules as well.

U.S. PIRG, in the meantime, urges the following ways to sever the link between big money and politics: contribution limits set at a low level that average Americans can afford, mandatory spending limits, strict limits on out-of-district contributions, tax credits for small political donations, and free media for candidates.”

This is their answer to what they call the recent “sham reform that takes us backwards.” See http://www.pirg.org for more details.

More articles by:

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

April 25, 2018
Stanley L. Cohen
Selective Outrage
Dan Kovalik
The Empire Turns Its Sights on Nicaragua – Again!
Joseph Essertier
The Abductees of Japan and Korea
Ramzy Baroud
The Ghost of Herut: Einstein on Israel, 70 Years Ago
W. T. Whitney
Imprisoned FARC Leader Faces Extradition: Still No Peace in Colombia
Manuel E. Yepe
Washington’s Attack on Syria Was a Mockery of the World
John White
My Silent Pain for Toronto and the World
Dean Baker
Bad Projections: the Federal Reserve, the IMF and Unemployment
David Schultz
Why Donald Trump Should Not be Allowed to Pardon Michael Cohen, His Friends, or Family Members
Mel Gurtov
Will Abe Shinzo “Make Japan Great Again”?
Binoy Kampmark
Enoch Powell: Blood Speeches and Anniversaries
Frank Scott
Weapons and Walls
April 24, 2018
Carl Boggs
Russia and the War Party
William A. Cohn
Carnage Unleashed: the Pentagon and the AUMF
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
The Racist Culture of Canadian Hockey
María Julia Bertomeu
On Angers, Disgusts and Nauseas
Nick Pemberton
How To Buy A Seat In Congress 101
Ron Jacobs
Resisting the Military-Now More Than Ever
Paul Bentley
A Velvet Revolution Turns Bloody? Ten Dead in Toronto
Sonali Kolhatkar
The Left, Syria and Fake News
Manuel E. Yepe
The Confirmation of Democracy in Cuba
Peter Montgomery
Christian Nationalism: Good for Politicians, Bad for America and the World
Ted Rall
Bad Drones
Jill Richardson
The Latest Attack on Food Stamps
Andrew Stewart
What Kind of Unionism is This?
Ellen Brown
Fox in the Hen House: Why Interest Rates Are Rising
April 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
In Middle East Wars It Pays to be Skeptical
Thomas Knapp
Just When You Thought “Russiagate” Couldn’t Get Any Sillier …
Gregory Barrett
The Moral Mask
Robert Hunziker
Chemical Madness!
David Swanson
Senator Tim Kaine’s Brief Run-In With the Law
Dave Lindorff
Starbucks Has a Racism Problem
Uri Avnery
The Great Day
Nyla Ali Khan
Girls Reduced to Being Repositories of Communal and Religious Identities in Kashmir
Ted Rall
Stop Letting Trump Distract You From Your Wants and Needs
Steve Klinger
The Cautionary Tale of Donald J. Trump
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Conflict Over the Future of the Planet
Cesar Chelala
Gideon Levy: A Voice of Sanity from Israel
Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
Howard Lisnoff
How James Comey Became the Strange New Hero of the Liberals
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail