Political Reform and Soft Money
be no doubt that American
politics involves too much money. In the 2000 election cycle, the
Democratic Party raised over 520 million dollars. Even this insane
figure pales in comparison to the republican's 715 million.
Despite these staggering figures, the real
issue is not the money itself, but its effect on policy decisions.
We've heard about 'soft money' for years, but its impact is rarely
First of all,
soft money allows an individual to donate more than his
allotted maximum to a particular candidate by using an organization - a
state party, for example - as a middleman. They donate to the
given organization, and the organization uses their donation in the
campaign of the candidate that the donor supports.
One example of this situation is the oil/energy
industry. They support the republican party's stance on
the environment, and their donations show this. They attempt to
influence the election with money, thereby solidifying their
2002 so far
Any type of organization can act as a middleman between large donors and political parties. Political parties,
corporations, unions, and special-interest groups all play a role in the
soft money loophole. Despite the outrageous amounts of money being
spent on election campaigns, the biggest problems with large donations
is that they attack the principle of all votes being equal.
Under the current system, individuals are
limited to donating a certain dollar amount to parties or
candidates. However, the soft money goes into a general party fund
and can be raised through such things as dinners with politicians.
In the 2002 election cycle, the largest donor to the republican party
was the 2001 President's Dinner Committee, which raised a full ten times
as much money as the next highest donor. Suppose a politician has
one of these $10,000 a plate dinners. Company X pays for twenty
people to attend. This leads to certain corporations or
industries, making very large donations, and thereby greatly influencing
Some organizations - Microsoft,
Citigroup, and SBC Communications, to name a few - donate responsibly.
Many groups, however, think otherwise. The Service Employees
International Union donated almost all of their 8.5 million dollars to
the democrats, while the NRA and Philip Morris each donated over 90% of
their 3 million dollars to the republicans. Politicians know who
their biggest supporters are, and make concessions to their wishes.
In effect, this can make the votes of twenty people far more important
than that those votes of most other citizens.
The problems of the system are
obvious, and although this cycle seems impossible to end, several ideas
can at least make the system less financially driven, and somewhat
equalize the importance of votes. Legislation
effects such change much be passed through congress. In 1986, Bill
Bradley proposed a bill to limit campaign contributions and 'pork-barrel
legislation.' Before it was passed, however, congress
debated it, and changed it such that it not only made the financial
situation worse, but also had unnecessary legislation attached to it( 2
Simply put, there is too much money in
politics. The votes of large donors are worth more than
the votes of average citizens. And even when legislation is
introduced that would reform the present state of campaign financing, it
often gets modified by congress, and in effect, waters down its impact.
The first step towards campaign finance reform is to show politicians
that we care about the issue, and then elect people who are willing to
tackle the problem.
1: All the statistical figures on this
page are based on Federal Election Commission data released on Monday,
October 01, 2001 and November 01, 2001. All numbers are credited
to the Center for Responsive Politics, as reprinted through
2: Showdown at Gucci Gulch : Lawmakers,
Lobbyists, and the Unlikely Triumph of Tax Reform
by Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, Alan S. Murray (Contributor).
Pub. by Random House Inc. 1987.
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