Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Big Campaign Donors on the Run ; McCain-Feingold Increases Roll of Small Donors

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Big Campaign Donors on the Run ; McCain-Feingold Increases Roll of Small Donors

Article excerpt

When the spending for this year's presidential and congressional races is finally tallied in December, a record $3.9 billion - at least - will probably have been spent, some $1.2 billion of that on the Bush-Kerry contest alone.

Those staggering figures, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, whose primary effort is following the campaign money trail, represent a 30 percent increase over what was spent in the 2000 election.

Yet even with the enormous amounts of money that helped fuel political races this year, the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign- finance law can claim some modest accomplishments.

In fact, the law's restrictions on "soft" money have helped make the parties more reliant on smaller donors. According to the center, individual contributions will total $2.5 billion by the end of the current election cycle. That's a big jump over the $1.5 billion in individual contributions raised in 2000.

And the political parties managed to raise record amounts of money in spite of the law's centerpiece - which bans parties and candidates from accepting unlimited, unregulated soft dollars from corporations, unions, and individuals - and in spite of widespread predictions that the McCain-Feingold law would mean the demise of the parties.

The two parties also have had to develop stronger grassroots fundraising efforts - healthy for democracy in that the more individuals involved in the political process, the better. And, perhaps most important, big donors were better kept at arm's length from direct solicitation by parties and candidates.

Money, like water, finds a way

Still, big-money donors managed to make use of a large loophole in the law to bolster both Democratic and Republican campaign efforts, and more needs to be done to keep in check such fundraising and spending in future elections.

An estimated $460 million in soft money has been funneled to so- called 527 independent advocacy groups. Unfortunately, those groups were the principal source of a barrage of harsh attack ads against both Bush and Kerry (recall the Swift Vets and POWs for Truth ads helped by rich Texas donors such as T. …

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