Some See Root of All Evil Taking Toll on Politics
Piccoli, Sean, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
To the drum-beaten complaints about campaign '96 - too little substance, too few candidates who inspire - add another chorus of dismay: too much money.
As cash pours into party pockets at a record pace, political society is re-examining its love of the green and deciding that something may be terribly wrong.
From new books such as Charles Lewis' "The Buying of the American President" to the alarmed critiques of "millionaire" and "billionaire" presidential candidates, political money is becoming the Beltway's latest nervous tic.
Dollar guilt abounds, and the syndrome is as acute as anything experienced in the post-Watergate era of sweeping campaign finance reform, which produced the laws, loopholes and $1,000 limits that vex politics today.
"The problem is getting worse," says Don Simon of Common Cause, a liberal advocacy group.
Nowhere is disquiet over "the problem" more pronounced than in Congress, where several members are retiring - partly, they say, out of disgust with the fund-raising grind - and leaving others to rewrite campaign finance laws.
A re-reform bill covering political action committees, individual contributions, corporate money and "soft money" to state parties is making its way through both chambers.
"For years this issue has been building," says Ellen Miller of the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks campaign finance. "And with every presidential election cycle, the issue of the money chase and what we call the `wealth primary' is more and more obvious, and never more so than this year, principally thanks to Steve Forbes."
Publishing magnate Steve Forbes spent $32.6 million of his own money turning the GOP "wealth primary" into a flat-tax referendum.
But nobody credits Mr. Forbes alone with inflating the cost of the game.
Across the board, "the money numbers are going up," Mr. Simon says. "The amount of soft money is increasing. And there's every expectation that this year, '96, will be by far the worst in the amount of soft money raised and spent." "Soft money" refers to cash received by state parties for voter drives and education not tailored to a candidate.
The primary beneficiaries of the soft-money rush, much of it coming from people who donate $100,000 or more a pop, are Republicans.
The GOP raised $20 million in soft dollars in the first six months after winning control of Congress in the November 1994 elections. That is almost as much soft money as both parties spent in nine battleground states in the 1992 presidential election.
For all money, soft and hard, "we're well ahead of '92's pace," says Tom Ferguson, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts at Boston and author of "Golden Rule: The Investment Theory of Parties and the Logic of Money-Driven Politics" (University of Chicago Press, 1995). …