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THE MONEY PIT: CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM.

THOUGH HE WAS ONCE tarred as a "Keating Five" Republican presidential hopeful John McCain is now running hard on a platform of cleaning up a campaign finance system all agree stinks worse than Washington's Blue Plains sewage treatment plant. McCain's plan calls for soft-money bans and strict hard-money limits, the better to end the "stain upon [politicians'] honor" that McCain says "shames me." Critics--especially fellow Senators--dismiss McCain as a self-righteous grandstander, but his issue has hit a sweet spot with the American public.

We checked in with CEOs who keep a keen pulse on Washington to get their take on how to stem the stench--and the perception of stench--that often flows with large campaign donations. All agree that reform is badly needed, but each has his own, often unique, take on how to go about it--and whether it will ever really happen.

A couple of our CEOs formed their views of the money pit from both sides of the hollow having recently run for elected office themselves.

WILLIAM T. ESRY

CHAIRMAN AND CEO. SPRINT CORP.

We desperately need campaign finance reform. But you can't have unilateral disarmament. You can't have labor decide not to give and business give, or you can't have business decide not to give and labor give, or any other interest group. It's got to be across the board, and it has to work, not with the soft dollar squeezed in around the edge. Nobody yet is coming up with something that's realistic, that everybody's committed to, and that works... Rather than taking the bigger picture, every-body is trying to look at their self-interest, saying, "I give a dollar more so I don't want to give that up." Somebody's got to step out to public responsibility here and address this issue. Everybody talks about people coming to Washington. Well, the special interest group in this case is inside the Beltway and is not being effective in stepping up to the responsibilities that I think they have."

AL CHEOCHI

DIRECTOR AND FORMER CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD, NORTHWEST AIRLINES DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY CANDIDATE FOR CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR, 1998

"The current system largely is extortion. If you were to go candidly to the CEOs of contributing companies and ask them if they give money out of a sense of conviction that X or Y candidate is worthy, generally the answer will be 'No.' They give because they have to. And the candidates who want the money behave like gangsters: if you don't give, they'll get you. Most campaigns should be federally financed. It would be easy to design a system that says you have so much money to run, financed generously, but if you use one penny more you lose the federal money. It would even be so much cheaper to the American economy to do it this way. Our society pays an immense price for a system that allows justice to be bought."

RALPH S. LARSEN

CHAIRMAN AND CEO,

JOHNSON & JOHNSON

"We don't give soft money; it's very troublesome. Having said that, raising; the kind of money that a candidate has to raise with a $1,000 maximum per person, which was something put into effect many years ago, makes no sense, either. So I think the whole system has to be changed in a way that brings it into the 21st century. With the soft money issue, I'd get rid of that. And then I would raise the amount a single individual can give so that candidates are not faced with this endless, 24-hour-per-day, 7-day-a-week job of raising money in $1,000 increments. You don't want it raised to a number so large that it can influence anybody's vote. But I think $2,000 or $3,000, some number that's sensible, but is significant enough that you take this terrible burden off candidates. I think good people are simply not willing to spend their entire lives going out and begging for money in endless coffees and fundraisers with $1,000 maximums."

RILEY P. BECHTEL

CHAIRMAN AND CEO,

"As a former lawyer, I think the first step is to enforce more effectively the laws that are on the books, start taking some stands on behalf of justice for what's right and what's wrong with campaign finance. The Justice Department should enforce the laws more vigorously. One thing I'm intrigued by is George W. Bush putting his contributions on the Web the same day. It's an interesting decision; if all candidates would do that, it would help a lot. Within 24 hours, anybody could find out who's giving to whom."

BECHTEL GROUP

GEORGE M.C. FISHER

CHAIRMAN AND CEO,

EASTMAN KODAK COMPANY

"I wish we'd get rid of all soft money. That's a personal view, but I just think soft money is corrupting the system."

MAURICE "MORRY" TAYLOR

PRESIDENT AND CEO,

TITAN INTERNATIONAL REPUBLICAN PRIMARY CANDIDATE FOR PRESIDENT, 1996

"The only way to clean up the system is not to look only at the money; you need to fix the whole campaign process, to come up with a system where money doesn't influence the election.

My system for the presidential election would break the country into four quadrants, starring with the Northeast. One year before the election you have a primary in New Hampshire and, afterward, in one other Northeastern state chosen by lottery. Before the first primary, four debates would be held with all interested candidates, which could mean 100 people. In these debates, covered in their entirety by C-Span and public broadcasting, candidates in groups of three question each other--tough questions, not Larry King powder-puff questions. Candidates could also run their own newspaper ads, but no advertising would be allowed over the airwaves. After watching the debates, people in the state would vote. Only the top 20 candidates could go on to the second state. There you have another four debates and voting, with those getting at least 5 percent moving on to the next quadrant, and so on. You end up with two candidates, regardless of their party, plus a sitting president if he's running again, who hold their own four debates before the national election. Again, no TV or radio ads allowed.

You've also got to get the American people to participate; they're fairer than everybody. To do that, I would use incentives for voting, such as a $100 credit on their income tax, and would hold the election all weekend to encourage participation.

This system could also be applied to Congressional and Senatorial offices. And one result would be that it would encourage some of the great CEOs we have in companies to run for office, people who could run the country wonderfully but who would never go into politics and put up with the system the way it is now."

LARRY BOSSIDY

CHAIRMAN, HONEYWELL

"I think there's a realistic discussion going on in Washington, but on the other hand it's hard to see that this is going to come to any positive conclusion in the near term. It comes before the politicians; and I think they wrestle with it, but I'm not sure they want to see a conclusion here. The system needs reform, but I think the issue is going to stay up in the air for a while."
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Author:DAVIDS, MERYL
Publication:Chief Executive (U.S.)
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2000
Words:1204
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