Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Campaign Finance Must Be Reformed

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Campaign Finance Must Be Reformed

Article excerpt

The dreary, depressing campaign of 1996 is coming to an end in a burst of hypocrisy. Bob Dole, favorite son of the tobacco and gun lobbies, born again as an apostle of campaign finance reform! Bill Clinton, who soft-pedaled the issue at the urging of congressional Democrats, demanding action!

But the fact of the last-minute conversions tells us that the political system is working as it is meant to work in a democracy. The sovereign citizens have become sufficiently troubled by a problem - disgusted might be a better word - to make their political agents change.

Or so it seems. Politicians and the interests that feed them have a hundred ways of avoiding real limits on the flow of money, as we have learned from the collapse of the reforms made after Watergate. But this time I think there will be meaningful change. If we are at a point where legislation is possible, what do we want to achieve? These are some objectives: (1) End the appearance - sometimes the reality - that contributions buy votes. Legislators always deny that they are bought, but is it an accident that recipients of big money from tobacco interests, for example, tend to favor the tobacco companies' positions? (2) Level the playing field in campaigns. Today a billionaire can spend his money without limit. The system also favors incumbents, because interested parties (notably corporations) have every incentive to see that incumbents get funds in the years before elections. (Companies have raised $242 million for this year's presidential campaign, labor unions $35 million.) (3) Reduce the exhausting and degrading burden on politicians of raising money. Today a member of the House from a competitive district is no sooner elected than he or she has to start worrying about financing the next campaign. (4) See that the principal medium of today's political campaigns, television, is used for debates and discussions of the issues instead of expensive and largely negative spot advertisements. Achieving those ends will not be easy. For they pose complex issues not only of policy but of constitutional law. …

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