. . . And Wrong on Campaigns

May 28, 1991

After voting 56-42 to keep public financing of congressional elections in its campaign finance reform bill, the Senate Thursday passed the bill. Democrats voted 56-0 for public financing, Republicans voted 42-0 against. On this issue, the Republicans are definitely in tune with the public.

One stated aim of this madness is to free members of Congress from having to devote so much time to raising money from special-interest groups, a task that many members say they regard as demeaning. Public subsidies won't end the need for private campaign funds, though. The bill doesn't outlaw them. It limits them. All this bill would do is reduce the amount of time candidates spend in fund raising. It is an incumbent's relief bill. It shortens their work week.

It is an incumbent's relief bill in another way. A second stated aim is to make congressional races more competitive. Give us a break! This bill would make races less competitive by reducing the amount of money challengers can legally spend: to get the subsidy, a candidate must "voluntarily" abide by spending limits. Every political scientist who has studied the problem believes that a challenger has to spend more than an incumbent to wage a contest on a level playing field.

Political science aside, it is dumb politics of Democrats to be pushing this selfish legislation. The American people are in no mood to subsidize politicians' campaigns. They hate the idea. Only one in five 1040 filer earmarks a dollar for the presidential campaign fund. We would be surprised if even 20 percent of Americans favors a congressional campaign slush fund.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was right when he looked at that 56-0 and 0-42 breakdown on the Senate ballot and said, "We're going to have a field day with this [in 1992]." House Democrats, all of whom must run in 1992, unlike their Senate colleagues, ought to bury this bill in a hurry.

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