"Last year when I ran for the Senate … I locked myself in a room with an aide, a telephone, and a list of potential contributors. The aide would get the `mark’ on the phone, then hand me a card with the spouse’s name, the contributor’s main interest, and a reminder to `appear chatty.’ I’d remind the agribusinessman that I was on the Agriculture Committee; I’d remind the banker I was on the Banking Committee. And then I’d make a plaintive plea for soft money-that armpit of today’s fundraising…. I always left that room feeling like a cheap prostitute who’d had a busy day."
The trouble with our political campaigns, in the view of many critics and ordinary citizens, is that big contributions buy too much power; special interests, lobbyists, and campaign consultants have too much clout; gazillionaire candidates have an unfair advantage; negative attack ads pollute the airwaves; the sources of funding for many ads are hard to identify; and campaigns are too long.
The Enron spectacle is capitalism’s gift to campaign finance reformers. At a time when they are close to having the signatures they need to force the Republican leadership to bring the Shays-Meehan bill to the House floor, along comes a dramatic reminder of the ugliness of soft money.
The way it’s typically portrayed in the media, campaign finance reform is a push to stop big companies and other wealthy interests from buying influence by funneling huge "soft-money" contributions to federal candidates through their political parties. And, oh yes, there’s something in there about barring the use of corporate and union money to sway elections through "sham issue ads." And something about more disclosure of election-related spending.
Public financing of congressional campaigns? Free TV time for politicians? Forget it, says the conventional wisdom-
It all sounds so clean, so wholesome, so righteous: Close the loopholes in our campaign finance laws. End what Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., calls the "corrupting chase for `soft money.’ " Curb the influence of corporations and labor unions. Stop special interests from polluting our politics with "sham issue ads." Mandate greater public disclosure of political spending.
At the core of American freedom, wrote the late, great Justice William J. Brennan Jr. in 1964 in New York Times Co. vs. Sullivan, is "a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials." Attacks on private individuals are protected speech, too, as Brennan and his colleagues held in other decisions.
Sorry you missed the Vice President…. I know [you] will give $100K when the President vetoes tort reform, but we really need it now. Please send ASAP if possible.
My column of June 24, embarrassingly headlined "Why We Should All Be Grateful to Janet Reno," seems to have been overtaken by events. It commended the Attorney General for having twice (in late 1997 and again in late 1998) spurned subordinates’ advice that she unleash an outside investigator on Vice President Al Gore. Hours after it went to press, the news broke that yet another subordinate had recently done the same. Oops.
As the leakage of internal Justice Department documents has swollen to a flood, Attorney General Janet Reno has been weathering a new round of attacks for "protecting" Vice President Al Gore and President Clinton by repeatedly refusing to trigger judicial appointment of an independent counsel to investigate the two men’s roles in various campaign finance abuses of 1996.