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September 1989

October 1989

President's Message (Arlene Ellis)
Public Records Report
Honolulu Convention Center
Advocating for the Voter: Campaign Finance Reform
Planning and Zoning (Astrid Monson)
General Membership Meeting: Pro-Choice (Jean Aoki)
LWVUS Publications
LWV Presents (Linda Chinn)
Recycling (Dorothy Turnbull)

Advocating for the Voter: Campaign Finance Reform

In our democracy, the voter should be the most important participant in the election process. But two trends in Congress threaten this basic tenet. First, campaigns are becoming. more and more reliant on contributions from special interests. And second, it is becoming more difficult for challengers to compete with incumbents. Both these trends mean that elections often can be over before they really begin and that voters' concerns are not the central concern for elected officials.

What can be done? The most important thing is for Congress to reform the campaign finance system. It is essential that there be tough, realistic negotiations to reach real compromises on campaign finance reform that will protect the interests of voters. It is far too easy for Democrats and Republicans, congressional leaders and the President, incumbents and challengers, to make proposals that will never be enacted. Instead, they must come together to make genuine reform a reality.

And what reforms should be adopted?

The League believes that three goals must be kept in mind: preventing undue influence, providing for political competitiveness, and enhancing citizen participation in the electoral process. To accomplish these goals, Congress should enact comprehensive legislation to: 1) curb the undue influence of special interest group contributors and wealthy individuals; 2) provide public benefits, such as reduced-cost postage and media access, for congressional candidates who accept voluntary spending limits; 3) restore federal tax credits for small political contributions from individuals; 4) provide limits and full disclosure of questionable campaign practices, such as "soft money" donations and "bundling" of contributions, which are designed to circumvent existing campaign laws; 5) curtail the "grandfather clause" which permits certain members of Congress to make personal use of campaign funds once they leave office; and 6) enable the Federal Election Commission to more vigorously monitor and enforce campaign laws.

"SOFT MONEY": In a campaign finance context, this term refers to contributions that are outside the scope of the Federal Election Campaign Act: contributions to state and local parties and contributions to state or local candidates by corporations and unions where state law permits. "Soft money" also includes contributions for state "party-building" activities such as voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives, printing party slates and sample ballots. Under current interpretation of the law, national party committees can raise and give funds to state parties for such activities, and both the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee do.

Clearly, soft money spent on state and local races or on party-building also benefits candidates of that party, particularly when national parties target those funds to states or districts with close close federal races.

"BUNDLING": One of the gray areas of campaign finance, bundling is the grouping of individual contributions. These contributions are then funneled to a candidate through a conduit or intermediary (usually a party committee, lobbyist or PAC) so that the candidate unmistakably understands who has been responsible for gathering the contributions. Clearly, bundling overrides the law's intent about limits on contributions to candidates. To limit bundling, many 1989 reform proposals would count bundled contributions against both the original giver's and the conduit's contribution limits.

(Definitions of "soft money" and "bundling taken from LWVUS, FEDERAL CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM - ISSUES AND OPTIONS)

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