Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Fat-Cat Donors Dominate Campaigns . .

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Fat-Cat Donors Dominate Campaigns . .

Article excerpt

Don't hold your breath, but the U.S. Congress may finally try to do something about our corrupt campaign finance system. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Russell Feingold, D-Wis., have promised action soon, and some House members have declared September "Ban Soft Money Month." Let's hope they follow through.

The trouble is, left to their own devices, the politicians might make things worse.

Our campaign finance problem has been misconstrued as one of ethics rather than democracy. The scandals of the '96 elections have left some to argue that the problem is where the money was raised (Buddhist temples, the White House), or what cash bought (the Lincoln Bedroom, special favors). If this were the problem, simply requiring politicians to make fund-raising calls from the appropriate phone lines would be a quick fix. In reality, while ethics violations are unseemly, they are not the biggest source of our civic malaise. The deeper problem is that a handful of wealthy special interests routinely determine who effectively runs for office, who wins elections and who holds power in America. And these fat-cat power brokers don't have to break the law to do it. Candidates in most U.S. races win because they raise more money than their opponents - 90 percent of the time the better fund raiser prevailed in the 1996 congressional primaries. To raise the big money, politicians espouse positions that attract wealthy donors and raise their cash in large chunks from fat cats, instead of in the amounts ordinary citizens can afford. Average Americans are virtually unrepresented in campaigns because their small contributions are unimportant. Local spaghetti dinners and pancake breakfasts in the district have given way to Washington fat-cat fund-raisers. Missouri candidates raised 58 percent of their contributions from outside their districts in the last election cycle. Similarly, town meetings between constituents and their elected officials have given way to expensive TV sound bites. Political consultants continue to find more ways to spend more big money - on mass-marketing techniques, polling and focus-group-tested slogans - anything but old-fashioned person-to-person campaigning. …

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