The partisan gamesmanship surrounding campaign finance reform
continues to enrage or amuse depending upon one's point of view. The
Democrats' strategy is to pontificate and accuse while all along they
keep their fingers crossed behind their backs. As they demand more
debate and more votes, they continue with their outlandish fundraising
The newest iterations of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform
bill failed on Tuesday by the same number of votes as in the previous
four years. Yet President Clinton on his way to two fundraising events
for congressional Democrats attacked Republicans by stating, "The
failure of the Senate to adopt real reform is a victory for the politics
of cynicism and it leaves unchecked the influence of moneyed special
interests." According to
Capitol Hill Blue,
one of those fundraisers was at the home of Sen. Jay Rockefeller,
D-W.Va., who had just voted twice for an end to soft money fundraising.
In addition those Senate Democrats, who had piously voted for
McCain-Feingold, scheduled another fundraiser for the following evening,
Oct. 20, 1999, where they hope to raise another $2 million for their
overflowing war chest.
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The firestorm concerning "campaign finance reform" has been generated
in great part by the mainstream media: The New York Time, The Washington
Post, The Los Angeles Times, ABC, CBS, NBC, etc. They have peddled the
concept that the current campaign finance laws are inadequate because
the major political parties have been able to circumvent the current
limits for political contributions by taking in "soft money" for "party
building activities." The bottom line is that President Clinton,
Vice-President Al Gore, the Democrat National Committee and other
branches of the Democrat party violated current political fundraising
laws and regulations and the nation's Attorney General refused to
investigate or prosecute such illegal activities. Thus the solution
suggested by Democrats and media alike is campaign finance reform
legislation, which will result in more restrictions on the ability of
Americans, individually or as part of a group, to speak on matters
After the Republicans took control of the Congress in 1994 the
Democrats, especially those in the House of Representatives, who lost
control of the enormous political and fund-raising power base of
Committee chairmanships, needed a mechanism to attack the Republicans
and their leadership. The way was made possible by court rulings and a
White House that pushed the limits of campaign law. Their premise was
simple: don't urge voters to vote for a particular candidate, just
educate them as to the candidate's position on controversial issues.
Thus, issue advocacy, as opposed to advocacy on behalf of political
candidates, was born.
Susan B. Glasser, writing in the Oct. 17 issue of the Washington
explains how the Clinton strategy influenced the congressional races.
"On Capitol Hill, the congressional party committees were quick to catch
on to this new use for soft money, deciding that they could air ads in
individual House races that mentioned federal candidates by name. The
ads were legal as long as they didn't say 'vote for' or 'vote against' a
particular congressional hopeful." As a result both the Republican
Congressional Campaign Committee (RCCC) and the Democratic Congressional
Campaign Committee (DCCC) began raising soft money with a vengeance.
After all there are no federal limits to soft money contributions, but
there are strict contribution limits to candidates and political action
Issue advocacy became a way of using non-restricted dollars to inform
the electorate in a biased manner, primarily against incumbent senators
or representatives, about positions on the issues of the day. Thus we
have seen issue ads on gun control, minimum wage, welfare reform,
campaign finance, and many hot topics of the day. As this method of
television advertising beat back all court challenges, the amount of
money required to keep buying television time grew. The "dialing for
dollars" for soft money expanded geometrically. It was hard to "just
say no" to congressmen and senators, let alone the president or the vice
president. Between the 1994 elections and the 1996 elections both
parties increased their congressional campaign committee fundraising by
more than 200 percent. And they are well on their way to again
increasing those percentages for the 2000 election cycle.
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What this means is that issue advertising -- especially on television
-- will expand dramatically between now and November 2000. Several
years ago in a speech before the American Association of Political
Consultants I said, "The line between issue advertising and political
advertising is a line in the sand drawn on a windy day." When campaign
committees omit the words "vote for" or "vote against" everyone knows
the political message doesn't vanish. In fact that message is enhanced,
as the ad doesn't seem like a political ad. The fact that those ads are
now being paid for with non-regulated dollars is disliked by both the
media and Common Cause.
So this week we have had the major media such as the New York Times'
Oct. 19 editorial, the
Washington Post with many column inches including a two-part series on
both the DCCC and the RCCC fund raising efforts, and an editorial in the
Los Angeles Times in unison supporting the current version of
McCain-Feingold. Although the New York Times stated that they "agreed
with omitting the regulations of fundraising by independent groups"
because only a soft-money ban had a chance of passage, their objective
has been and remains regulation of all political fundraising.
The objective of the Democrats, on the other hand, is to gain the
fundraising advantage. Over the past three decades Democrats have
raised less money than Republicans. The original campaign finance bill
was passed as a reaction to President Nixon's fundraising ability. Yet
he was a piker compared to Bill Clinton. Clinton and his party with
massive media assistance have succeeding in diverting everyone's
attention from flagrant violations of campaign laws in his
administration. Those special interest moneyed groups that Clinton
attacks are the ones who support the First Amendment rights of
individuals and groups or who support Republicans. The Democrats have
vigorously defended the rights of their supporters to send them money.
All you have to do is ask Charlie Trie, the Chinese, and the labor
unions. They know -- it's the dollars, stupid!