The Money Many of the Leading Political Things in the Country Say That the System of Raising Campaign Funds Is Destroying the Integrity of American Politics. in This Report, the Monitor Examines the Troubled System. P.10-11: Los Angeles and New York as Mother Lodes for Candidates Raising Money. P.11: The Controversy over Political-Action Committees (PACs). P.12: Congress's Attempts to Make the Campaign-Finance Process More Equitable, Acccountable, and Honest

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LATER this year, Eddie Murphy stars in "The Distinguished Gentleman," a movie that will make campaign reformers in the nation's capital chuckle.

Playing a two-bit con man, Mr. Murphy decides that if he wants to get rich, the place to do it is Congress. Marty Kaplan, the executive producer and screenwriter for the motion picture, says: "What this small-time scammer is thrilled to discover is that you can make all this money {being a congressman} and not be on the wrong side of the law."

As reformers here would say: Welcome to Washington.

Hollywood Pictures, a division of Disney Studios, is keeping the plot line of "The Distinguished Gentleman" secret, but Mr. Kaplan says it wouldn't be wrong to assume that one of the legal gold mines that the con man discovers in Washington is campaign fund raising.

Kaplan, a former White House speech writer for President Jimmy Carter, knows that every election year, hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign funds flow through this city like a river of milk and honey. It comes from businessmen, labor unions, corporations, lobbyists, oil men, and even Hollywood stars looking for special influence with powerful lawmakers.

Yet campaign funding remains one of the most difficult areas for reformers. Politicians' constant search for campaign cash feeds the growing public skepticism about the integrity of government in the United States.

The most commonly suggested alternative - that the government fund campaigns - draws boos from many Americans, especially Republicans.

Years of debate on Capitol Hill have produced some progress. But critics say the system is still terrible. Tom Cronin, a political scientist at Colorado College, says bluntly: "The campaign finance system is a disgrace."

Dr. Cronin says that when he travels abroad, lecturing in nations like China, "the toughest thing for me to do is explain ... the role of campaign funding {and} the lack of competition in American democracy." The situation is so bad, Cronin says, that it "makes me feel squeamish as a defender of our system."

Susan Estrich, who ran Michael Dukakis's presidential campaign in 1988, and who also happens to be married to movie-producer Kaplan, worries that the power of money is "undermining the confidence which people have in their government."

For example, Ms. Estrich argues that the main reason the US fails to improve its health-care system is that millions of dollars in campaign money flows to both Democratic and Republican leaders from doctors, hospitals, businessmen, and insurance companies.

But reformers face a dilemma. It may be true that money corrupts, as they say. But money - lots of money - is necessary for campaigns. It pays for TV ads, travel, polls, organizing, and other necessities.

When Patrick Buchanan recently shook the Bush White House with his insurgent presidential campaign in New Hampshire, one of the main reasons he was successful was his rich campaign treasury. …


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