Reps. Shimkus and Allen
June 11, 1997
in this forum:
Should soft money be banned? Is adultery in the military out of control? What is going on with the emergency relief bill? Shouldn't there simply be full public disclosure of campaign contributions? Would free air time reduce the need to raise money? Should there be a nonpartisan commission on campaign finance reform?
General information, schedules and past Freshmen Forums.
Return to @the Capitol.
Scrutinize the work of several major Congressional committees in online forums with the chairs and ranking members.
Follow the first year in Congress of Freshmen Reps. Kay Granger (R-TX) and Jay Johnson (D-WI)
A question from Dan Gorman of Chicago, IL:
Reps. Shimkus and Allen,
Thanks for participating in this forum, and for your good efforts on this critical issue.
I favor a total ban on soft money, whether done as a ruling by the FEC, or, preferably, by an act of Congress. As news reports from the most recent election campaign demonstrate, this is the area of campaign finance most commonly abused by both major parties. Though much more needs to be done, this would be a step in the right direction. A Congressional enactment -- whether an amendment to the FEC charter, or as a stand-alone statute -- would be less susceptible of legal challenge, and would therefore likely take practical effect sooner, and more surely than a simple ruling by the FEC.
Do you favor a ban on soft money? If so, why; if not, why not? How do you estimate the chances of such a ban being enacted by either house, and how might the vote be likely to go?
Rep. Shimkus responds:
First, I want to thank Online NewsHour and you for participating and offering your viewpoints in this innovative format.
Several months ago, at the beginning of the 105th Congress, I was named to the Bipartisan Freshman Campaign Finance Reform Task Force, which Republican Congressman Asa Hutchinson co-chairs with Democrat Congressman Tom Allen. During the past several months the Task Force has held hearings on nearly every aspect of campaign finance, with testimony given from former Congressmen, lawyers, special interest groups, college professors, research foundations, citizens, etc. The full disclosure of all direct and indirect campaign spending has always been my primary concern for campaign finance reform and the Task Force. Other significant campaign finance reform issues like soft money have also provided for lively debate in the Task Force. This group will soon be coming out with a bipartisan proposal on campaign finance reform which we hope will better address concerns from both sides of the aisle. It will be up to Congress as to whether there will be significant reform brought to the floor.
Rep. Allen responds:
I strongly support banning soft money from the federal political system.
I serve as co-chair of a bipartisan task force of freshman members of Congress who support campaign finance reform. We are drafting a bill that I hope will prohibit national parties from raising soft money. Such a soft money ban would be the keystone of comprehensive campaign finance reform legislation.
There is a danger of corruption, or the appearance of corruption, when an individual, company or organization gives exorbitant sums of money to a candidate or a party. Does that contribution give the individual, company or organization greater say over the policy of the party? Does that generosity win them special access?
Soft money is defined as money not regulated under the Federal Elections Campaign Act. Soft money is "soft" because it comes from sources that are barred from giving to federal races. Examples of soft money are corporate and labor treasury funds and individual contributions that exceed federal contribution limits. The soft money loophole allows contributions from sources prohibited under federal law to affect federal races. For example, an individual can only give $20,000 to a national party, but by using the soft money loophole, an individual can give $100,000, $200,000, or even more.
Soft money violates the intent of the Federal Election Campaign Act. It circumvents federal contribution limits under the guise of money for "party building" activities. In the 1996 election cycle, soft money funds were used for television advertisements that inferred the election or the defeat of candidates for Congress. By not expressly calling for the election or defeat of a federal candidate, these advertisements were exempt from federal election law.
The dilemma facing successful campaign finance reform is a divided government. With a Republican majority in the Congress and a Democratic President, a campaign finance reform bill must be bi-partisan in order to pass. Our task force is comprised of six Democrats and six Republicans. As we worked through the issues over the past five months, our bipartisan task force has focused on those reforms that have support on both sides of the aisle. We are optimistic, therefore, that our task force bill, once completed, can pass this Congress and be signed into law.