Contrary to headlines, campaign-finance reform is real scandal

September 21, 1998|By Myriam Marquez

WARNING: There is no thong-bikini exposure, no cigar action and no up-against-the-wall "back relief" in this column.

Now that I have your attention, let's focus on the biggest political disgrace of our time: politicians who can't say no to rich people's so-called soft money.

Don't yawn. Wake up and smell the crisp bills. Follow the money.

Does the green take us to Indonesia -- or, worse, communist China -- by way of the Democrats in 1996?

Does it take us to Hong Kong, now also part of China, by way of the Republicans in 1994?

Did the Republican-controlled Congress or that Democrat in the White House grant any favors in exchange for millions of dollars in contributions?

That's the political scandal that threatens to "burn Rome," from Washington to Tallahassee.

Skirting the law

Let's evaluate how our system of democracy is threatened by loopholes in campaign-finance laws -- loopholes that allow big-money donors, such as corporations and labor unions -- indirectly to finance election campaigns by giving huge, unregulated sums of money to political parties. The two major parties, in turn, pass along that soft money to their candidates, which gets around individual-contribution limits set by law.

Let's mention the hypocrisy on both sides of the aisle in Congress and in state legislatures when it comes to approving campaign-finance laws that would turn off the special interests' soft-money spigot.

Two weeks ago, the U.S. Senate once again killed campaign-finance reform legislation. Despite majority support, the legislation fell eight votes short of the 60 needed to end a filibuster. That's the same tally taken in October 1997 and February 1998.

Last month, I predicted that the reform train wouldn't leave the station. I didn't have to read tea leaves to get that right -- just know a little history.

Back when George Bush was president, the then-majority Democrat Congress was eager to pass campaign-finance reform because Democrats knew that Mr. Bush would veto it and that Congress didn't have the votes to override that veto. They pulled that bad joke twice on the nation.

And early during President Clinton's first term, the House of Representatives and the Senate approved different versions of campaign-finance legislation, but those measures went nowhere -- even though the White House and Congress were controlled by the same party.

Mr. Clinton was too busy raising soft money for his party to give more than lip-service to the reform effort.

Justice Department investigations -- or yet another "independent" counsel -- may get to the bottom of the foreign-money scandals involving Democrats. Illegal foreign money, though, is only a drop coming out of the soft-money spigot. What's legal is what should worry us all.

FEC report

TTC Two weeks ago, the Federal Election Commission tallied contributions received by political parties for the 18 months that ended June 30. The FEC found that GOP national, state and local committees raised $73 million and that Democrats received $53 million in soft money. That's a 255-percent increase for Republicans and a 70-percent increase for Democrats since the 1993-1994 midterm congressional election.

There's a part of me -- a dark, cynical part of me -- that says nothing will change even if Congress closes the loopholes. Politicians simply will craft another loophole to squeeze big-money to their campaigns.

And what of the people?

Will the American public let fascination with thong bikinis obfuscate the very real threat that unregulated soft money poses to our democracy? You don't need tea leaves to answer that one.

Myriam Marquez is an editorial page columnist for the Orlando Sentinel.

Pub Date: 9/21/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.