OPED20 Campaign Finance 'Reform'
A hot topic in the news is campaign finance reform. The McCain-Feingold-Cochrane Campaign Finance Reform Bill - Senate S27 (PDF file), Common Cause summary , and
OMB Watch summary - has passed the Senate, while the Shays-Meehan Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act - House HR 2356 - passed the House in February. Both these bills aim to regulate campaign financing by eliminating 'soft money' donations, and imposing other restrictions.-
Since Shays-Meehan is slightly different from the Senate version discussions are back in the Senate. Senator Daschle has vowed to get it through the Senate by 3/25, Republicans (led by Mitch McConnell, R-KY) are resisting and threatening a filibuster.
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The passage of these bills was helped by revelations of Enron's massive political contributions, even though these paled in comparison to union contributions - In the 2001-2002 election cycle Enron ranked 33rd in soft money contributions, while in the 1999-2000 election cycle it ranked 15th in soft money contributions. (The AFSCME was on top in both of these cycles, the SEIU was once second and once third in the rankings, while the CWA was 6th in both cycles.)
Instead of fighting the "villain du jour" (today it is soft money, a few years ago it was Political Action Committees...) with restrictive and constitutionally questionable laws, we should ease restrictions on campaign financing but subject all financing to the light of day, a sort of Regulation FD for the political industry. The following is a suggested outline for a campaign reform system:
- Raise hard money contribution limits to $20,000 per donor per phase of the election cycle (i.e. a donor could contribute up to $20,000 in the primary, and then $20,000 in the general election).
- Cap soft money contributions at $100,000 per person or $500,000 per organization per phase of the election cycle. Thus the total amount of money an individual may contribute in aggregate would be $240,000 in a single year. There would be no exclusion for self-financed campaigns.
- Every candidate would need to have a web site listing every contribution received with donor information. This would be the name and state of every individual donor, and the name of every organization (with industry classification and membership information, so that an organization can not be used as a front to avoid disclosing donors' names). Information for every contribution would have to be available on the web site within 24 hours of depositing donor checks. The web sites would be standardized so that they would be identical for all candidates, and would be indexed and searchable by amount, donor, state, organization, industry, etc. With immediate full disclosure, all sources of campaign funding would be fully transparent and available to interested individuals, the media, and the politicians' opponents (potentially to be used as a campaign issue...) To ensure compliance with the listing requirements, every infraction (no matter how small) would result in a $500,000 fine payable within 2 weeks. If the politician could not pay the fine within the deadline then he/she would be stricken from the poll.
- All contributions to any post-election 'transition' activities and celebrations would be banned. While contributions to candidates can be considered 'at risk', contributions to the person who has won the election are more likely to be made to ensure 'access'. Being post-election this ban should avoid 'free speech' constitutionality problems.
© SNi 03/07/2002