Muslim Agenda: After Bloc Vote, What Next? Campaign Finance Reform
By Rehana Syed
Rehana Syed is communication coordinator for the American Muslim Alliance.
The American Muslim Alliance, a national Muslim grassroots organization with 94 chapters in 34 states, launched a nationwide campaign in March to support the McCain-Feingold-Cochran Campaign Finance Reform Bill--S. 27. The legislation's principal sponsors were Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Thad Cochran (R-MS).
After two weeks of debate, on April 2 a bipartisan majority of senators passed the bill to overhaul the nation's campaign finance laws. Similar legislation--H.R. 380, sponsored by Reps. Chris Shays (R-CT) and Marty Meehan (D-MA)--has been proposed in the House.
"The vote and money are the two main components of American politics," said AMA chairman Dr. Agha Saeed. "With the bloc vote we have learned how to use our votes effectively. Now we must work in solidarity with other citizens' groups to bring about a genuine campaign finance reform. Such reform will level the playing field and reduce the unfair advantage of entrenched groups and lobbies. Thus it will enhance the effectiveness of our votes."
As documented by the Federal Election Commission and reported by Public Citizen, a Washington, DC-based public interest group, during the 2000 election cycle approximately 34 percent of all large ($1,000 or more) contributions to federal elections came in the form of "soft money"--unlimited contributions to political parties that are not earmarked for a specific candidate. Moreover, unlike contributions of "hard money," or direct, regulated donations, which are limited by federal law, "the vast majority of soft money is raised in chunks of tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars," Public Citizen reported.
Observed Dr. Shabbir Safdar, national vice chairman of the American Muslim Alliance, "Joining hands with McCain and Feingold to bring about genuine campaign finance reform is good for America and it is good for American Muslims."
According to Public Citizen, "the McCain-Feingold bill centers on the urgent need to close the gaping `soft money' loophole in campaign finance law that permits unlimited contributions from corporations, unions and wealthy individuals to national, state and local political parties. The bill not only prevents the parties from directly raising and spending soft money, but also prohibits them from indirectly using nonprofit organizations and `leadership PACs' to obtain soft money. State parties, which are permitted under certain state laws to accept soft money, would be prohibited from spending it on federal elections under S. 27."
Supporters of this bill point out that to avoid federal contribution limits to candidates, many special interests collected unlimited and unregulated amounts of money to fund phony "issue ads."
"We appreciate that the McCain-Feingold bill dealt directly with the problem of phony ads by banning ads that mention a candidate for up to 60 days before the election," said Dr. Agha Saeed. "But we wanted the sponsors of this bill to go one step further and reduce the amount of permissible hard money contributions as well."
As it turned out, after weeks of debate, the total "hard money," or direct, regulated donations an individual can make to candidates and parties in a year was increased--from $20,000 to $37,500. …