October 26, 1997
Campaign Finance Reform Begins at HomeBy U.S. Rep. John Hostettler, R-IN
There's a lot of talk about campaign finance reform in our nation's Capitol these days. Politicians, reporters, think tanks and pundits have declared the current system ineffective, denounced it as too complex and defined the solution as they see it. It's hard to turn on CNN or C-SPAN without hearing someone calling for reform.
Some -- primarily those who have gotten into trouble skirting or breaking existing laws -- are the most vocal in crying for "reform" to the system. Many want to change campaign laws that don't benefit them and maintain the ones that do. Few are willing to exercise real leadership by abstaining from the very campaign practices they condemn.
Why has campaign finance reform become the focus of so much discussion in Washington? The answer can be traced in large part to ongoing investigations by Senate and House committees, the Justice Department and the FBI of apparent campaign finance violations. The administration, under tremendous pressure to respond to the daily revelations and allegations of broken campaign laws, has adopted a strategy of changing the subject. We didn't want to do what we did, the administration tells the American people, but we were forced to by the current campaign system. Hence, they argue, the system must be reformed.
This is a little like Bonnie and Clyde telling a judge we need bank security reform. Instead of owning up to their actions and cooperating fully with the multiple investigations, the White House and the Democratic National Committee have stonewalled, forgotten, changed their stories and changed the subject. Let's forget the investigation, they say, and focus on changing a corrupt system.
What's forgotten in all this hubbub is that the currently legal system was seen as the answer to the campaign abuses of yesteryear. The law that limits individual contributions to $1,000 and that forbids corporate contributions altogether to a federal candidate was the answer to the "corrupt" political system of an earlier time. Political Action Committees (PACs) were established to allow individuals without large bank accounts to join together in order to have a greater voice in the process. Soft money is an outgrowth of the restrictions established in the 70s.
It's also significant that most of today's federal campaign finance law evolved during the 1970s when Democrats controlled both the House and the Senate. It was then that limits on contributions by individuals, PACs and parties were established, uniform disclosure of campaign receipts and expenditures were required and the Federal Election Commission was created. Yet it's Democrats who are now blaming the system for their own misdeeds.
One has to wonder why, if President Clinton and his allies in Congress hated the current system so much, no campaign finance reform was passed when they controlled the White House, Senate and House as they did in 1993 and 1994. If reform was truly what was needed they could have avoided all this controversy.
In reality, changing the current system probably won't change much. Certainly there is room for improvement and I have supported legislation to make campaign financing more equitable. I voted for the Campaign Finance Reform Act of 1996 which would have required candidates to raise a majority of campaign funds from residents of their own districts, and reduced the influence of special interest groups by reducing the PAC contribution limit by 50 percent. Unfortunately the measure failed.
I am also a cosponsor of the Paycheck Protection Act, which prevents companies or unions from compelling individuals to contribute to a political organization without their individual consent. Political coercion has no place in a constitutional republic, yet today millions of Americans are finding part of their paychecks taken from them without their voice or choice and used for political purposes with which they may disagree. This bill would not prevent any corporation or union from contributing to a political organization or PAC. It merely requires them to get permission before they take any money from the paychecks of their stockholders or members.
I believe these are important steps toward improving the system. The most significant thing we can do to improve the system is to elect politicians with integrity. Without doing so it won't matter much what laws we pass. As we saw in the last election, politicians and parties can always find ways to skirt, circumvent or ignore existing laws.
It is for this reason that I do not accept any special interest PAC funds. I want to avoid even the appearance of being beholden to any special interest group. Ultimately, I believe candidates must hold themselves to a higher standard of conduct. For anyone who espouses campaign finance reform, reform must begin at home.
Additional articles in this issue:Concerned Women for America rallies to close the Kinsey institute
Student Coalition throws a fit about the greek system
College Republicans issue press release concerning ZBT incident