Campaign Spending: Reforming Reforms ANALYSIS
Lawrence J. Goodrich, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
IT takes an incredible amount of money to run for federal office these days: $4 million to win the average Senate seat, for example, according to Sen. David Boren (D) of Oklahoma. Winning a House of Representatives seat can cost hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of dollars.
Most of the money goes to the Scud missile of political campaigning, the television ad.
The consequence is that only candidates with their own personal wealth or the ability to raise these huge sums can successfully run for office. Thus the major preoccupation for the incumbent and his or her challenger is amassing a campaign war chest.
Polls show that the public is disgusted with campaign financing practices and believes that its elected representatives are more interested in serving contributors than "average" constituents. The Keating Five controversy, in which five senators were reprimanded over their relationship to Charles Keating and his now-failed savings and loan, has given impetus to several campaign-finance-reform bills now before Congress.
The irony is that this situation is the result of the last campaign reform. In 1974, after the Watergate scandal, Republicans and Democrats were eager to clean up campaign fund-raising, which had figured highly in the affair. The allegations centered around whether President Nixon had raised milk price supports after the dairy industry had pledged $2 million to his 1972 campaign, and whether he had terminated a Justice Department antitrust suit against the ITT Corporation after it had pledged to finance the Republican convention. Nixon denied acting improperly.
In the aftermath, Congress decided to limit the amount individuals and corporations could contribute to federal campaigns. The reform law decreed a limit of $1,000 per individual and $5,000 per organization for each candidate.
The hope was that the restrictions would diminish the influence of wealthy corporations and individuals. What happened was that hundreds of "political-action committees (PACs)" were formed so that special-interest groups could contribute to campaigns. …