Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Politician and His Patrons Presidential Campaigns Are Less Horse Races Than Giant Auctions

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Politician and His Patrons Presidential Campaigns Are Less Horse Races Than Giant Auctions

Article excerpt

IF there's one thing the Steve Forbes phenomenon shows, it's the overwhelming power of money in the way Americans choose their president. Starting with no organization and practically no name recognition, Mr. Forbes used millions of dollars and saturation TV and radio advertising to put himself in contention in just three month's time.

With Iowa over and New Hampshire upon us, Forbes may no longer be the strong contender he for a time appeared to be. But his performance nonetheless raises important issues.

Forbes, it turns out, has been lending part of his personal fortune to his campaign, with the hope of reimbursing himself with millions of dollars raised from special interests nationwide, in 10 to 15 fund-raising events in the weeks ahead. So the candidate who advertised himself as not being just another politician of the special interests is, after all, a candidate who may be supported substantially by special interests.

Our federal elections have become an exclusive, "pay-to-play" process. In 1996, the major candidates who would be president are either millionaires themselves or have already raised many millions of dollars. In 1995, they cumulatively raised more than $100 million, before a single vote was cast anywhere - an unprecedented figure.

President Clinton raised nearly $26 million in roughly seven months, or more than $120,000 a day. That kind of cash doesn't come from backyard barbecues. Indeed, most Americans do not contribute to political campaigns at all. In the 1992 federal elections, fewer than 1 percent of the American people gave contributions of $200 or larger.

In his essay "The Power of the Powerless," Czech leader and writer Vaclav Havel urged that we all "break the rules of the game" and "live within the truth." We should stop living the lie of presidential campaign pap, vacuous rhetoric, advertising, and the almost-daily analysis of who's ahead. It is time that we all reject that quadrennial ritual and begin to expose the real foundations of power in the 1996 presidential election and in our national political process.

The truth is, the presidential campaign is less a "beauty contest" or "horse race" than a giant auction, in which multimillion-dollar interests compete to influence and gain access to the candidates.

The significance of the money chase is evident when you consider who is not running for president. During the past year, several major national political figures - former Education Secretary William Bennett, former Defense Secretary Richard Cheney, former HUD Secretary Jack Kemp, former Vice President Dan Quayle - all declined to run for president, at least in part because of the money chase that is a prerequisite to candidacy. …

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