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There are four important parts to a campaign: the candidate, the issue, the campaign organization and the money to run it. Without the last one the other three will not exist (Janda/Berry/Goldman pg. 164). Politicians need money to keep their careers going. Political money is divided between dollars that are regulated called “hard money” and money that has no restrictions called “soft money”. Soft money is money which, by definition and law, is not supposed to be part of our federal campaign finance system. It is precisely the kind of money which federal law and policy have sought to exclude from national campaigns (Common Cause Soft money pg.1). Senator John McCain from Arizona and Russell D. Feingold, Democrat from Wisconsin have pushed for a ban on “soft money”, money that is given to political campaigns but is not regulated, in presidential campaigns (New York Times September 16,1999). Some people argue that this goes against our constitutional amendments. Soft money does give the wealthier and more powerful the upper hand, but I don’t think there should be a ban on soft money, just a limit or restriction.
In 1971, congress passed the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) stating that all campaign contributions had to be reported (Janda/Berry/Goldman pg. 164). The FEC now enforces limits on financial contributions to national campaigns and requires full disclosure of campaign spending (Janda/Berry/Goldman pg. 165). Under these new laws the FEC limited money in presidential primary elections to $10 million but by 1996 the limit was raised to $30.9 million (Janda/Berry/Goldman pg. 165). What caused the big change in the limit on campaign spending from the 70’s to the 90’s, “Soft Money”?
Soft money comes from unions, corporations and wealthy individuals. This money is given indirectly to campaign candidates by promoting televisions ads and other things (New York Times September 15,1999). The money is not handed directly to the politician; it is almost handed to as a gift. For example they will buy commercials, magazine and newspaper space, that is not cheap, to promote the politician or the party they want to win and slander the one they want to lose. The McCain-Feingold bill would ban soft money to parties and extend federal regulations to money raised by independent groups for campaign ads two months before election (New York Times September 15,1999). The argument or discussion that was raised by the corporations and unions that were given this soft money was how could the government tell people what to do with their money.
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Campaign finance reform has become one of the hot-button issues of campaign 2000 (Boston Herald, September 1999). Most groups are for reform but interest groups and lawmakers that benefit are against reform. Some argue that this ban on soft money is wrong and it violates our First Amendment to freedom of speech (Resource guide; pg.40). Congress tried to pass limits on federal campaign contributions and public funding, in Buckley v. Valeo in 1976, the Supreme Court struck down the limits on citizen expenses as an infringement on the first amendment (Janda/Berry/Goldman pg. 165). The other hand says that soft money is just a form of legalized bribery (New York Times September 16,1999).
Gov. George E. Pataki and New York State Republican Committee raised $6 million in campaign contributions this year (New York Times July 16,1999). This number has more then doubled from last years 2.53 million. (New York Times July 16,1999). Last year a party was held in one of New York’s hotels. It was a fund raiser that raised more then $3 million dollars. This is something politicians do in their final stages of campaigning to raise money (New York Times July 16, 1999). Many wealthy people such as the agricultural giant, Archer Daniels Midland, and insurance company, Reliance Group Holding were there, and have contributed more then $30,000 each to campaigns such as Bill Clinton and Bob Dole’s presidential campaigns (New York Times July 16, 1999). The soft money loophole was created, not by Congress, but by the Federal Election Commission in an obscure administrative ruling in 1978. For years this potential loophole remained largely dormant. It emerged from this dormancy in the 1988 presidential campaign, first when the Dukakis campaign, and then the Bush campaign, began aggressive soft money fundraising. This fundraising involved the solicitation of corporate and union treasury funds, as well as unlimited contributions from individuals (Common Cause, Soft money Laundromat).
A New Jersey business man who pleaded guilty to funneling illegal donations to the Clinton-Gore campaign became the 19th person charged by the F.E.C., in the investigation of fund-raising abuse (Washington Dateline September 15,1999). Lawrence Penna, President of the Investors Associates securities firm in Hackensack, was accused of conspiring to reimburse employees who wrote personal checks for $12,000 in illegal donations to the Clinton-Gore campaign. He will be sentenced to prison for up to five years and will be fined up to $25,000 (Washington Dateline September 15,1999). Federal election laws prohibit individuals from donating more than $1,000 to any federal candidate at one time (Janda/Berry/Goldman pg. 165).
The money is what gets everyone the best of people, media ads, transportation, etc. So that is why most of these candidates, corporations, unions and wealthy people do anything to raise a lot of money because they want the person that is going to do the most for them to win, at any cost. People can go either way with this argument. Soft money does give the wealthier and more powerful the upper hand, but I don’t think there should be a ban on soft money, just a limit or restriction. Because according to the First Amendment of the United States Constitution “Congress shall pass no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise or abridging the freedom of speech or press” (Janda/Berry/Goldman Chap. 1). So anyone has the right to give this campaign money to support the government in any way they want.
The ability of corporations and special interest groups to contribute large sums of money to political campaigns makes our one vote seem like nothing, when our politicians are “brought and paid for” by the rich and wealthy. Once that politician gets into office they must pay back those interest groups because they are now indebted (Atlanta Journal and Constitution, October 1999). Now that this person is in office and they are indebted what are they going to do? What they have done so many times in the past, take it out of the people they were elected to represent. There should be a limit to these corporations and interest groups so that things don’t get out of hand and we don’t end up cleaning up the mess. We deserve to be represented by politicians that have our best interest at heart (Atlanta Journal and Constitution, October 1999).
Imagine an election where there were limits on contributions and contributors. We could have fewer high priced PR representatives putting words in their candidates’ mouths in those far too soon, expensive and obnoxious TV commercials. Candidates would have to make low-key appearances in front of their constituencies, tell us their position on real issues and answer questions about things we care about. We could vote them in based not on who could build the bigger “war chest” but on those things that we see as important (Los Angeles Times, October 1999).
The bill to ban this “soft money” was defeated after reformers failed twice to break the necessary 60 votes to kill the filibuster. So the ban on “soft money” will not go through. Reformers say they will not give up but Senate Majority leader Trent Lott says, “This issue is dead for the year” (Los Angeles Times, October 1999).
1. Kenneth Janda/Jeffery M. Berry/Jerry Goldman, The Challenges of Democracy; Houghton Mifflin Co. 1998
2. The New York Times, September 16,1999, Thursday, Late Edition-Final, Section A; Pg. 1; Column 3; National Desk, 968 words, 2 SENATORS REVISE THEIR PLAN TO LIMIT CAMPAIGN FINANCES, by ALISON MITCHELL, WASHINGTON, Sept. 15
3. The New York Times, September 15, 1999, Wednesday, Late Edition-Final, Section A; Page 28; Column 1; Editorial Desk, 878 words, Campaign Finance Tactics
4. Columbia Journalism Review, September/October 1999, Resource guide; Pg. 38, 2497 words, COVERING MONEY AND POLITICS; Getting inside the Issue of Campaign Finance, by PETER OVERBY
5. The New York Times, July 16, 1999, Tuesday, Late Edition-Final, Section A; Page 1; Column 2; Metropolitan Desk, 919 words, Pataki and G.O.P. Report Big Increase In Raising of Funds, by CLIFFORD J. LEVY, ALBANY, July 15