October 10, 1997
The investigation is big news in Washington, but how's it playing around the country.
The Online Explainers take your question on the investigation.
The NewsHour's coverage of the Congressional Investigation.
The inside stories on the political fight behind the public investigation.
A closer look at the issues really under scrutiny by the Congress.
Campaign finance "reform" is one of those issues (like "tax
expenditures" and global warming) about which lobbyists and politicians,
particularly professions politicians, care passionately and ordinary
citizens care not a wit. The 1997 debate has as its genesis (per usual)
one the political parties (this time, the Democratic Party) being caught
"with its hand in the cookie jar." And, again as is customary in the
history of campaign finance "reform," the "red-handed" party is the one
most urgently propounding the need to reform, in the words of one of the
most clearly corrupt, "a clearly corrupt system."
The public is currently confronted in the media by that now-familiar refrain that our body politic has been corrupted by a surfeit of cash. Interestingly, the chorus is raised most loudly by politicians who have spent much of their time squeezing the money out of constituents and members of the media who have benefited most from its disposition. (Presidential, House, and Senate candidates spent over $400 million on television advertising in 1996, for example.) Shakespeare might comment, "Methinks they doth protest too much."
Do we spend too much money advancing the public debate? Doubtful, given the fact we spend far more on pet food. Do some of the expenditures and some of the methods employed to obtain the funds necessary to make the expenditures eclipse the bounds of ethical conduct? Probably. But, unfortunately, that will be the case no matter what the legal strictures applied to the exercise of our political rights. A simple fact of life is that cheaters will always find a way (and feel the need) to cheat.
As the debate continues to occupy the time of our political class, let us all he reminded that there is nothing so wasteful as doing with great efficiency that which does not have to be done at all. Our political system does not need better rules; it needs better people as politicians. Want reform? Remove all restrictions on political contributions, but require full and prompt disclosure of those contributions. Then let the voters decide if candidates who pay for their campaigns with funds from this group or cash from these individuals are worthy of election. Then limit terms of office, thus removing a primary motivation for cheating.
But above all and in every case, to the First Amendment be true. That original campaign reform was and remains the most important reform of all.