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Will curbing PACs hurt black reps?

To many Americans, the clamor about campaign finance reform is a no-brainer. They believe too many politicians receive too much money from too many single- or narrow-issue political action committees (PACs). The result: Constituents complain that legislators are unduly influenced to do a PAC's bidding, rather than protect constituent interests.

For many Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) members, campaign finance reform is no casual matter, and PACs are viewed as boons not banes. In fact, some CBC members fear restrictive financing rules will undermine their efforts to be re-elected. As Eva Clayton (D-N.C.), president of the Democratic Frehman Class notes, "Candidates in the poorest districts often accept money outside the area. This is particularly true when the candidate is not affluent and receives the bulk of his or her individual contributions from people who give $200 or less."

The issue is particularly delicate because most House and Senate members rely on PAC contributions to replenish financial "war chests" depleted during the election cycle. For funding anything from media air time to campaign paraphernalia, money is an essential part of a successful campaign. Moreover, because incumbents stand to lose it stringent restrictions on PAC contributions are enacted, finance reform has become one of the most contentions issues facing Congress.

President Bill Clinton has pledged to sign the campaign finance reform bill vetoed by his predecessor, thereby sending Capitl Hill a signal that his Administration is serious about reform. Congress has been listening.

Logically, the battle against restrictions should be waged by PAC-reliant minority candidates who need outside money to offset their district's scarce resources. CBC members fear proposals reducing the amount of PAC contributions will hinder their ability to fend of challenges in upcoming elections. Yet, those who may be most affectd by the bill, such as CBC and other minority caucus members, have barely squawked over reform initiatives.

Considering that most members of Congress support campaign finance reform in principle, a resistant CBC may fear press and public criticism if its members oppose campaign reform.

John Lewis (D-Ga.) believes that although the costs of the current campaign system are too high, PACs are vital to minority candidates. He views PAC contributions as a necessary "pooling" of resources in the African-American community that keeps minority candidates in the game. Arguing that PACs were created for political reform, Lewis likens attempts to limit them to attempt to restrict free speech. He says the Constitution guarantees a candidate the right "to speak through dollars" under the First Amendment. Ronald V. Dellums (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, is an ardent supporter of campaign finance reform. He says taking "money out of the political enterprise is important for the perception of [a] lack of conflict of interst in the political process."

Dellums can afford to say that. In 1992, the Federal Election Commission reportd he received $854,478 in total contributions and $78,434 primarily from political action committees.

But, not every CBC member feels the way Dellums does. Floyd H. Flake (D-N.Y.)--who received $81,517 in individual contributions and $142,490 from PACs--is skeptical of reform. He says the issue is a GOP ploy to level the playing field in "white-on-white" elections where suburban and rural Democrats often have a financial edge over their Republican opponent. "The real issue is that Republicans do not feel they get a fair shake," Flake argues.
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Title Annotation:impact of new political action committee financing rules on African American congressmen
Author:Berry, Sharon
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Sep 1, 1993
Previous Article:Going solo.
Next Article:Eyes on the prize.

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