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Important Victory for Average Voters on Campaign Finance Reform

April 22, 1998

Important Victory for Average Voters on Campaign Finance Reform

Countdown to Meaningful Change Continues

Today?s announcement that the Republican leadership will take up bipartisan campaign reform bills by May 15 is a huge win for the grassroots groups who have been working to end the corruption of special interest money in our political system.

“The countdown to campaign finance reform is headed toward victory. We are just a short way from taking the first critical steps to reform this system of legalized bribery,” said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. “Members who think this issue will go away quietly can either make a reality check now, or wait until the voters deliver one in November.”

Yesterday, Public Citizen delivered letters from 50 state and local citizens’ groups to “swing” Republican and Democratic members of the House, urging them to sign the discharge petition for a fair vote on campaign finance reform. Signers included: National Audubon Society of New York State, Sierra Club-Lone Star Chapter, Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Pennsylvania, Environmental League of Massachusetts, Massachusetts Citizens for Safe Energy, Arizona Consumers Council, Texans for Public Justice, New York Public Interest Research Group, New York Statewide Senior Action, and Pennsylvania Council of Churches.

“Ordinary Americans are angry about the way our corrupt political process damages their welfare,” Claybrook continued. “They know that special interest money buys influence over issues from tobacco to pollution to programs for children and the elderly. These letters showed real change is supported by a wide variety of consumer, environmental and other organizations, not just the longtime political reform groups.”

The leading reform initiative is the bipartisan Shays-Meehan bill. It would ban “soft money” — unlimited campaign contributions by special interests to political parties for federal elections. It would also bring phony “issue ads” that are really designed to elect or defeat candidates under existing legal limitations on campaign spending.

“The scandal of soft money must end. In the 1996 election the political parties spent $262 million in soft money, of which $214 million came from corporations and wealthy individuals. The Shays-Meehan bill is the most meaningful reform under consideration, and would help stop this shameful special interest influence,” said Claybrook.

The latest Federal Election Commission disclosure reports indicate that the Republican and Democratic parties raised $74 million in soft money in 1997, a 19% increase over 1995, the last non-election year. Shays-Meehan would ban all soft money in federal elections including that spent by national, state and local parties.

In addition, an estimated $150 million was spent by parties and special interests on phony issue ads. Shays-Meehan would bring this spending under existing law which prevents corporations and unions from contributing to candidates and political committees, limits contributions by wealthy individuals and political committees, and mandates disclosure of significant contributions.