The New Money Game


Now that the Supreme Court has upheld the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA), better known as the McCain-Feingold law, by a 5-to-4 majority, is the need for campaign finance reform over? A surprising number of people seem to think so. First there are members of Congress, who are said to be experiencing "reform fatigue," overwhelmed by the technicalities of the law they passed (the joke in the cloakrooms is that BCRA stands for "Before Campaigning, Retain an Attorney"). Then there are the cynics in the press who have been saying all along that campaign reform can't work. Now they point to the recent emergence of independent committees, known as Section 527 organizations after the relevant part of the IRS tax code, as proving their point. These committees are funded with soft money from wealthy donors like philanthropist George Soros. And finally there are progressives who have begun wondering aloud whether more reform is needed if big donors like Soros will pay to level the playing field while Howard Dean's small-donor dynamo reinvents public financing through the generosity of private givers.

All these people are wrong. First of all, Congress cannot and should not stop now. All BCRA does is end the raising and spending of unlimited soft-money donations by federal party committees and candidates running for federal office and constrain the financing of some ads aimed at helping or hurting candidates. These were big loopholes through which about $500 million from corporations, unions and rich individuals flowed in the last presidential election cycle, out of a total of $2.9 billion. But now Congress ought to deal with the fact that the remaining system of financing campaigns is grossly unfair and unrepresentative. Just one-quarter of 1 percent of Americans make a campaign contribution of $200 or more, and this group is disproportionately white, wealthy, male and conservative. Ninety percent of the more than $2 billion contributed by individuals to federal candidates and parties in the 2000 and 2002 elections came from ZIP codes that are predominantly non-Hispanic white, even though nearly a third of Americans are of color, according a new report, "Color of Money 2003" by Public Campaign, the Fannie Lou Hamer Project and the William C. Velasquez Institute (see Patricia J. Williams, page 10, for more details). Our attention ought to be on addressing that fundamental divide, wherein an adult resident of Beverly Hills 90210 gives, on average, $466 in campaign contributions while the average adult resident of Compton 90221 gives just 60 cents. …

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