Reps. Allen and Shimkus
July 30, 1997
in this forum:
What are the chances for the Freshmen Reform Bill? Is the NEA funding or censoring art? Is there support for real campaign reform? How should we deal with the NEA bureaucracy? Shouldn't there just be more disclosure of campaign sources?
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A question from Mark H Reed of Wayzata, MN:
Campaign Finance Reform
The current campaign finance laws were enacted in the 1970's as a means of "cleaning up the system." The conclusion one must come to is this: regardless of the laws, clever people will figure out how to beat the system one way or another. Given the sanctity of free speech in this country, why should we not do away with these easily circumvented laws, and instead allow unlimited contributions, provided total disclosure as to their origin?
Rep. Allen responds:
I am pleased to point our to Mr. Reed that the Bipartisan Campaign Integrity Act tightens disclosure rules. It eliminates the "best efforts made" loophole by requiring candidates to return donations of $200 or larger if they cannot identify the donor's occupation and employer. It requires disclosure for "third party" radio and television advertisements. It also requires any group, including nonprofit organizations and labor unions, to report the name of the group, its principal officer, its address and telephone number, and the amount of its expenditure provided that the group spent more than $25,000 to run television or radio advertisements containing the name or likeness of a candidate.
However, I disagree with Mr. Reed's premise and his conclusion. The real lesson of the 1996 campaign is that there is too much money in politics. In 1996, the two major parties together raised and spent over $260 million in soft money. Money dominates campaigns. Money dictates strategy. And, in the end, money distorts public policy.
The Bipartisan Campaign Integrity Act of 1997 bans "soft money," taking the biggest of the big money out of a corrupted campaign finance system.
Our democratic system of government is based on a simple principle: that the people we elect to serve us will represent our views, our values. Today, the public's trust in that principle is weaker than ever before. When voters feel that their voices are irrelevant beside the big-money influences, we must acknowledge that we face a crisis of confidence among the American electorate.
It will be an embarrassment if this Congress spends months investigating campaign finance abuses - almost exclusively traceable to the volume and influence of soft money - and then fails to act. The American people deserve better than the 1996 campaign. The Bipartisan Campaign Integrity Act will help to restore their faith in their political institutions and their elected officials.
Rep. Shimkus responds:
I am a strong advocate of full disclosure of all campaign spending, and any campaign finance proposal must begin there. Although recent elections have shown significant increases in the amounts spent on elections, I believe the real problem lies in the campaign finance disclosure laws.
As you stated, clever people often find ways to beat the campaign finance system. In modern campaigns, outside groups often spend huge amounts of money in elections without disclosing a single dime of their expenditures or from where they receive contributions. Unfortunately, the only person who suffers the consequences of this system is you, the voter, trying to make an informed choice for a candidate for office.
Although many politicians publicly state that campaign finance reform is a pressing issue, it is more difficult to agree on what the exact problem is, and the extent and solution of the problem. I remain supportive of campaign finance reform that includes full disclosure.