Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

PAC Money's Odor in Campaign Financing

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

PAC Money's Odor in Campaign Financing

Article excerpt

AT the recent Democratic presidential candidates debate, Jerry Brown came across like the proverbial skunk at a garden party. While the others wanted to talk about taxes and health care and such, the former California governor kept lobbing stink bombs about campaign finance reform and the corrupting influence of political action committees (PACs).

The response - from other candidates and many pundits - has been patronizing or prickly. A media consultant called Brown "a political terrorist who is very destructive to the Democratic Party and the country, ultimately, because he is taking the focus off George Bush and the economy and the Democratic solutions to the problems that really matter to people."

Yes, a lot of social and economic issues do matter to people. But given the miserable voter turnout in this country - barely half - there's something else that really troubles people. That's the belief that those who make the laws increasingly are answerable to special interests whose cash fuels the power of incumbency. This is the feeling behind the term limits movement, and it's what caused more than 5,000 debate viewers to call in when Brown gave his toll-free number to pledge $100 to his campaign (the most he'll accept).

Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey got all huffy and demanded to know if Brown was implying that his vote had been bought just because he accepted PAC money. But as former Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire has said, the quid pro quo may not come in a vote. "It may come in a speech not delivered," he said. "It may come in a calling off of a meeting that otherwise would result in advancing legislation. It may come in a minor change in one paragraph in a 240-page bill. It may come in a witness not invited to testify before a committee. It may come in hiring a key staff member for a committee who is sympathetic to the PAC. Or it may come in laying off or transferring a staff member who is unsympathetic to a PAC."

Or as Senate minority leader Bob Dole (R) of Kansas has put it more bluntly: "When these political action committees give money, they expect something in return other than good government. …

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