With the introduction of soft money in politics, elections no longer go to the best candidate, but simply to the richer one. Soft money is defined as unregulated money that is given to the political parties that ends up being used by candidates in an election. In last years elections, the Republican and Democratic parties raised more than one-half of a billion dollars in soft money. Current politicians are pushing the envelope farther than any previous administrations when it comes to finding loopholes in the legal system for campaign fundraising. The legal limit that any one person can contribute to a given candidate or campaign is one thousand dollars. There is, however, no limit on the amount of money one can contribute to a political party. Therefore people can contribute unlimited amounts to financially support issue ads which support a particular candidate without actually saying vote for or against an individual. There is currently a bill being petitioned in the Senate that would change the laws to include soft money under the classification of campaign money. It would then be regulated like all other money that a candidate raises.
The main argument that has halted past legislature on campaign finance reform sites the first amendment. Many people feel it is their constitutional right to contribute to a campaign in any amount or manner they see fit. The Supreme Court, in Buckley versus Valeo, ruled that congress cannot regulate when a candidate may put ads on television because it is a violation of the first amendment. The Supreme Court sited in its ruling that, Ones right to speak in his own behalf in an election campaign protects the expenditure of funds that are used to buy advertising, which reflects the views of that candidate. That is speech, and to restrict it in any way by congress is unconstitutional (Williams 10). The Supreme Court also sited in that same ruling that, In a free society by our Constitution, it is not the government, but the people-individually as citizens and candidates and collectively as associations and political committees-who must retain control over the quantity and range of debate on public issues in a political campaign (Keena 6). While it may be a violation of freedom of speech to limit television ads, many of todays candidates have made a mockery of the existing legislature regarding campaign financing. Ex-president Bill Clinton bent the rules and laws more than possibly any elected official ever, and certainly farther than anyone since Richard Nixon. Thad Cochran, a veteran Republican senator from Mississippi, stated, Clinton used his own party and had it operated out of the campaign office, which was the White House, to coordinate expenditures by the Democratic Party and his election campaign in an unlimited amount, using soft money to pay for the ads, with his own chief-of-staff making the decisions about the kind of advertising, and Clinton himself was involved in writing some of the ads that were actually run by the Democratic Party using soft money (Williams 10). No elected official had ever gone so far as to run soft money ads out of his own office, let alone rewrite the ads himself. It is cases such as this one that are prime examples for why there is such a need for new laws to govern campaign financing. According to John Quincy Adams, our nations second president, To pay money to secure an election, whether directly or indirectly, is incorrect in principle (Gillon 201). It seems as though todays candidates care little about principle, as it becomes increasingly apparent they just want to do whatever it takes to win. Anyone in doubt that elections seem to go strictly to the candidate raising the most money will find that a shocking statistic. In every election since 1976, the candidate who has won his partys nomination for the presidency has been the one that raised the most money in the year preceding the election, and qualified for federal matching funds. It is becoming increasingly apparent with every set of elections that only wealthy candidates can win an elected office, because the average citizen has been priced out of the race.
There are actually laws that prohibit the main contributors of soft money, such as corporations, unions, and foreign nationals, from contributing to a campaign. This is another reason politicians had to search for a loophole such as issue ads. The main laws sited by proponents of campaign finance reform are the Tillman Act of 1907, the Taft-Hartley law of 1947, and the Watergate law of 1974 (Williams 4).
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The Tillman Act of 1907 prohibits corporate money from being used in campaigns. Yet, many corporations donate hundreds of thousands of dollars of soft money to political parties in hopes of gaining favor with a president or senator. For example, many industrial companies donated large amounts of money to the Bush treasury. In turn, they hoped Bush would lessen the pollution standards for factories and also raise the tariff or foreign oil and steel. A recent black-tie dinner orchestrated by Bush and company brought in $24,000,000 for the Republican Party. Tables were sold for $25,000 a piece. It included more industrial companies looking for the pollution standards to be lessened, nuclear-plant owners hoping the government might support a nuclear reactor burial ground, and oilmen trying to convince the President or Vice-President to lift embargoes by the Unites States against countries such as Iran and Libya (Gillon 42). Another example of a corporation buying influence with government administration is Floridas Fanjul family, owners of the Flo-Sun sugar company. Statistics gathered by J. Bradley Keena, a well-known political commentator, indicate that in the presidential race of 1995-1996, Flo-Sun donated $410,000 to both the Democratic and Republican parties. Keena states that the apparent result is A continuation of government-provided sugar price supports, which net Flo-Sun an extra $60,000,000 dollars in profits per year despite compelling evidence that the subsidies essentially tax the poor by raising food prices and that Florida sugar plantations are slowly strangling the Everglades by choking off the ecologically sensitive areas water supply (3).
The Taft-Hartley law of 1947 specifically prohibits unions from contributing to a campaign. Yet unions donate millions of dollars each election to political parties. Although it is true that corporations out-contribute unions by a ratio of fifteen to one, there is a major difference between the money received from corporations and that of unions. While corporations contribute to both the Republican and Democratic parties, on average ninety-eight percent of union contributions go to the Democratic Party. The worst part of union contributions is that many times the members of that union have their union dues taken from them without any say about where or to whom that money should be spent. Many union members have no choice but to belong to a specific union if they want a specific job. That union will have a set amount that they withdraw from that workers salary annually as union dues. The average amount taken out of a workers salary for union dues today is $500 per year. That five hundred dollars can be given to the Democratic Party even if the particular worker who had it taken out supports the Republican Party. He or she does not have any say in the matter to whom the money should go. According to Grover Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform, the present Supreme Courts ruling protects labor union members particularly from having their union dues taken from them by force. These arent voluntarily contributed, these are union dues that you have to pay as a condition of employment if you are from a non-right-to-work state, and having those spent on politics or other things (Williams 14). Every year, huge sums of money are donated to political parties by unions despite the Supreme Court ruling and the Taft-Hartley law.
The Watergate law of 1974 prohibits foreign nationals from contributing to a campaign. The only contributions that can be accepted from anyone outside of the United States are those from someone who is a legal United States resident and must have earned that money in the United States. Ex-President Clinton came under scrutiny from the media for accepting a large donation from an Indonesian banker in 1996. The Democratic Party later returned the $425,000 donation, along with another $260,000 donation from a South Korean company (Keena 6). But still, even after this was uncovered, Clinton was given no reprimand for his actions. If people are ever going to trust in our government again, Washington must take a stand again corruption like this.
In a poll taken last year, the confidence in our government today was the lowest since the Nixon administration. That is a scary statistic, and steps must be taken soon to change that. Campaign finance reform should be the first step. If better ways are established to run for an office, and raising huge amounts of soft money from corporations, unions, and foreign nationals is not needed, then the government can once again work for the people instead of the wealthy and powerful. According to Susan Collins, a Republican senator from Maine, The twin loopholes of soft money and bogus issue ads have virtually obliterated out campaign finance laws, leaving us with little more that a pile of legal rubble (3). It is up to the current elected officials to change that, for the nation is in need of campaign finance reform more now than ever.
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Gillon, Steven M. Thats Not What We Meant To Do. New York: W.W. Norton & Company,
Keena, J. Bradley. Recalculating Campaign Finance Reform. The World and I. Dec. 1 1998.
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