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Votes for Sale: Highest Bidders Accepted
July 13, 2001
by Maren L. Hickton

Votes for Sale: Highest Bidders Accepted

Yesterday, the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives - using a cynical Parliamentary maneuver - may have succeeded in killing Campaign Finance Reform for this legislative session.

Senator John McCain, R-Arizona, and Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, sponsored and barely passed legislation in the Senate for Campaign Finance Reform which limits individual contributions to candidates, defines permitted/prohibited uses of contributions for specific purposes, amends disclosure provisions, and most importantly - bans unlimited contributions from unions, corporations and individuals in the form of "soft money." This measure also bar unions, corporations and some independent groups from broadcasting certain types of political advertising close to a general election. This bipartisan legislation was developed in the interest of saving democracy where all too often the election prize in America goes to the candidate with the deepest purse.

Sounds good to most Americans who broadly support this legislation, who do not appreciate being bombarded with ads by a variety of special interest concerns who assume we are all a bunch of dopes. These groups literally take over the airways pre-election under the veiled pretense of educating us all about the many (self-serving) contributions they are making to society and enlightening us as to which politician we should support. In other words, which candidate they have simultaneously voted to line the pockets of, which one is their favorite pick to win favors.

So what's the problem with what amounts to campaign bribery reform?

Well, for one thing, Bush opposes McCain's Bill, just like he has opposed everything else he hasn't put forth himself - no matter what it is. And for another, House GOP leaders allege that "the soft-money ban is a violation of free speech rights." Are we all laughing yet? Free speech for whom?

Members of the GOP House have been yipping and hissing about the possibility that they might have to work in the interest of the people in their districts in order to win votes for a change. What a catastrophe. Their nemesis? Senator John McCain, one of their own major fundraisers and supporters. The future of the House version of McCain-Feingold, sponsored by Representatives Christopher Shays (R-CT) and Martin Meehan (D-MA) is now in doubt. Even though it passed the Senate this year, and even passed the House by a 252-179 margin not long ago, Dennis Hastert (R-IL), Speaker of the House, has been in overdrive trying to derail this Bill. Hopefully he has not succeeded.

To distract from its substance, the GOP House feigned astonishment over the fact that the Senator McCain took time out of his busy schedule and campaigned for many newly elected House members and then sent them letters asking for their support in helping him to win passage of the Shays-Meehan Bill. What a shock. With the Bush's poll numbers slipping the last thing the horrified House leadership wants now is restrictions on political contributions. I guess since they can't find someone to cannibalize outside their own cave, they've picked their target and McCain is it. So they've been taking turns swiping at him in their plan to devour his Bill.

A major part of the GOP kill strategy has been to construct of an alternative fake bill, care of Representative Bob Ney, R-Ohio. According to Ney's Bill, soft-money "donations" would be allowed to be as much as $75,000 for election activities which include "voter registration drives." What kind of reform is that? Based on Rep. Ney's own political fundraising activities, 81.3% of political contributions were derived from business (62%) and labor (19.3%) with zero invested personally in his own election, so I guess he has reason to be concerned. However, I am sure that most people would conclude that Representative Ney isn't being purely altruistic worrying about the social issue concerning voter registration drives; Believing he is concerned about getting enough voters to the polls for himself to justify receiving over one million dollars from his campaign contributors makes far more sense. If you dig deeper, you will also find that Bob Ney received $10,000 from "Keep Our Majority PAC," a Leadership PAC for Dennis Hastert.

According to many members of Congress, Ney's Bill was politically designed to simply to die in committee so that it would never be enacted. More recently, however, Democratic union leaders and members from the Black Caucus seem to be supporting Ney's Bill worried that they won't be able to accept enough money under Shays-Meehan for "pre-election, get-out-the-vote activities." What a charade. Ney's co-sponsor, Rep. Wynn, can't even keep a straight face. How many election volunteers ever get paid for time, gas, lunch or anything at all? If anything, volunteers spend their own money on top of donating their time. Ney's sham Bill provides Representatives with a tool with a deceptive title to vote for very limited reform.

What does Senator McCain have to gain by his unrelenting hard work to ensure passage of real Campaign Reform legislation? Zip. What does McCain have to lose? Plenty. He is one of America's most popular statesman, with broad Republican, Democratic, and Independent appeal of which most organizations and major business groups would be delighted to send him a check and, collectively, have sent him millions.

In a representative democracy of the people, an "aye" vote on Shays-Meehan as a no-brainer. All soft-money contributions should be banned completely and personal contributions from individuals to candidates should be limited even further. What group sponsors a candidate for $75k (or even $20-30k) that isn't seeking some kind of favor? Shays-Meehan is the closest Bill to real Campaign Finance Reform - and is at least a start.

Bush claims he won't veto this legislation. I wouldn't if I were him either. After all, Bush just diverted a big chunk of taxpayer money to the IRS to finance his own politicking: a self-aggrandizing, provincial letter explaining to taxpayers that rebate checks would be coming in the mail soon. Thanks to these tax cuts, right about now many members in Congress would like to see Bush sitting in the corner with a dunce cap on his head as our economy is at a near standstill hovering over a cliff of potential deficit spending.

References for Review:
Federal Election Commission: http://www.fec.gov/
Money in American Elections: http://www.opensecrets.org/


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