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Show Me the Money!

THE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES WANT TO TELL YOU ALL ABOUT THE EVILS OF MONEY IN POLITICS, BUT FIRST, A WORD FROM THEIR SPONSORS

Campaign finance reform. If those three words make you want to drop your head on your desk for a short nap, try this: draw a line through the phrase and write M-O-N-E-Y.

Or, to be more precise, S-O-F-T M-O-N-E-Y. What is soft money? An ingenious, but sneaky, kind of political contribution invented to get around limits on the amount of money political candidates can raise from individual contributors and from political action committees (PACs), which are organized lobby groups. About $250 million in soft money flowed into the 1996 election.

Political parties can raise unlimited amounts of soft money, which is supposed to be used to advocate a point of view on an issue rather than to tout a candidate. But the airwaves are now clogged with commercials, funded by soft money, that indirectly promote specific candidates.

DIALING FOR DOLLARS

Voters have said loud and clear that they want reform, and the leading contenders have responded. But meanwhile, all four--George W. Bush, Bill Bradley, Al Gore, and John McCain--have bankrolled their campaigns the old-fashioned way, by squeezing big money from rich backers. With an assist from the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity's report, The Buying of the President 2000, here's a guide to where the presidential candidates say they stand on the issue--and to their personal relationships with big-money interests.

GEORGE W. BUSH (R)

"Campaign reformers are asking Republicans to unilaterally disarm, which I will refuse to do."

POSITION: Ban soft money from unions and corporations; allow unlimited donations from individuals; outlaw lobbyists' contributions to Congress while it's in session.

THE RECORD: Refused federal matching funds so he can spend as much money as he wants. Top contributors include oil and gas companies, as well as law firms with ties to big business. Backed legislation favorable to oil industry in Texas, but says campaign donations had nothing to do with his decision.

JOHN MCCAIN (R)

"The influence of money is corrupting our ability to address the problems that directly affect the lives of every American. Without ... reducing the role of money in politics we will never have a government that works as hard for the average American as it does for the special interests."

POSITION: Leading national proponent of campaign finance reform. Tried unsuccessfully to get the Senate to adopt controls, including a total ban on soft money. Made changing the system the centerpiece of presidential campaign.

THE RECORD: Embroiled in "Keating Five" campaign finance scandal (helping a failed savings and loan owned by a contributor) in 1989. Says the experience transformed him into full-time reform crusader. Accepted donations from big phone companies and entertainment giants-companies that conduct business with the Senate Commerce Committee, which he heads. Accused of intervening with a federal agency for a contributor seeking a federal license to buy a television station.

AL GORE (D)

"We speak with one voice in our demand for tough campaign finance reform. It is needed to clean up America's political system and make sure the voice of the average citizen is no longer drowned out by the roar of the special interests."

POSITION: Ban soft money and increase taxpayer (public) financing of elections. Require TV networks to give candidates free airtime. Challenged Bradley to drop all paid TV ads.

THE RECORD: Admitted he made improper fund-raising calls from his White House office and attended an illegal campaign fund-raiser at a Buddhist temple in California. Supported putting computers in every school, while raising $88,000 last year from Silicon Valley computer companies. Recently accused of steering lucrative sale of federally owned land to career patron Occidental Petroleum, but denies any favoritism.

BILL BRADLEY (D)

"The corrupt and corrupting campaign finance laws are a stain upon the honor of the country. And as President, I will not stand for it. I will end it."

POSITION: Ban soft money to national parties and prohibit state party committees from spending their soft money to influence federal elections. Increase taxpayer financing of elections and require stations to give candidates free TV time.

THE RECORD: Known as "Mr. Wall Street" while in the Senate because of ties to big investment firms, who have donated more than $1 million, in Senate, frequently backed investor-friendly tax bills, but has always claimed that his Wall Street ties had no impact on votes. Earned $2.7 million in speaking fees, much of it from special-interest groups, in two years after leaving Senate.
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Title Annotation:attitudes of presidential candidates toward campaign reform
Author:MANNING, STEVEN
Publication:New York Times Upfront
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 13, 2000
Words:754
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