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Campaign Finance Reform: Just Do It



The campaign-finance reform train is finally leaving the station, and recalcitrant legislators had better climb aboard. That brazen, big-time donor (to both parties), oilman Roger Tamraz said it all when he told Congress: "You set the rules, and we're following the rules. This is politics as usual." Which is exactly what the public thinks about the dollars-for-deals democracy practiced in Washington these days. It's corrupting and corrosive to see a Democratic Vice-President hustling potential contributors from his White House office and Senate Republicans slipping a late-night $50 billion tax break for tobacco donors into a budget agreement. This has got to change. The slimmed-down McCain-Feingold bill banning soft-money contributions is a significant first step in reining in runaway campaign-finance spending ($2 billion in 1996).

Business should get behind this bill. Nearly half of Corporate America already refuses to spend shareholder money on the access game in Washington. Some 26% of the 544 largest companies in the U.S. declined to make political contributions or run political action committees in the 1995-96 election cycle, according to a survey by the Los Angeles Times. An additional 21% made negligible contributions. IBM, Dell Computer, Steelcase, Gillette, Costco, and Alcoa, among others, simply say "no" when asked for contributions (page 46).

Ex-Senator Bill Bradley is right when he says that the Supreme Court made a terrible error in judgment when it ruled that campaign spending was equivalent to free speech. Voters overwhelmingly disagree with this notion.

The soft-money loophole, along with issue-advocacy spending, allows corporations, unions, and all special interests to pour unlimited amounts of cash into political parties. Some 45 Democrats and three Republicans in the Senate have lined up behind the McCain-Feingold bill. The business community, which provides the bulk of soft-money funds, can force Congress to do the right thing. If business backs the soft-money ban, it will do shareholders and the voting public an enormous service.

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