A question from Christopher G. Soniat of Birmingham, AL:
Prospects for campaign finance reform
Is it possible for elected officials of either major party to bring about meaningful change in the current system? Are both parties too vested (and too successful) within the current framework, to remove the financing upon which their power rests? If meaningful reform is possible, what will it take for congress to get the message that it is mandatory if we are to rejuvenate our democracy?
Rep. Jim Gibbons responds:
Special interest money has largely become a source of guaranteed support for incumbents. This gives incumbents an overwhelming advantage over challengers which undermines the democratic principles of our nation's electoral process. Substantial overhaul of our financing process is long overdue and must be dealt with.
One of the key issues that will be examined is the current financing of campaigns through the use of "soft money." "Soft money" is money that comes from outside the federal regulatory framework, but is raised and spent in a manner suggesting possible intent to affect federal elections. This kind of campaign financing eludes contribution limits that were established to promote a fair playing field for all candidates. It is a loophole that enables corporations, labor unions, and others to spend unlimited amounts to influence campaigns.
Legislation was introduced in the 104th Congress that would have eliminated "soft money" abuses, slashed political action committee contributions, and severely restricted out-of-state fundraising from special interests. Unfortunately, this legislation was defeated. Currently in the 105th Congress, over 40 bills have been introduced that seek to reform the present system. I have become a member of a bipartisan task force on campaign finance reform and will be studying each proposal with the closest scrutiny. It is my hope that we will be able to produce a package of initiatives that will make major improvements to campaign financing laws satisfying parties on both sides of the aisle.
Rep. Julia Carson responds:
My hope is that we can get meaningful campaign finance reform in this session of Congress. I think the controversies surrounding the President and the Speaker of the House could serve as a flashpoint for campaign finance reform. Yesterday, the President urged that we give free TV time to candidates for office, a proposal I have supported for quite some time. As a freshmen member, though, I have not yet experienced the entrenchment of vested interests in the framework of fundraising which seems to occur all too frequently here. However, I remain hopeful that we, as servants of the people, can ensure that the people's interests and the business of the nation can be addressed so that our democracy can flourish for years to come.
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