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Statement by Joan Claybrook, President of Public Citizen, Hailing New

Feb. 25, 1999

Statement by Joan Claybrook, President of Public Citizen, Hailing New
Drive to Enact Campaign Finance Reform Before the 2000 Elections

On behalf of Public Citizen, a nonpartisan consumer and public interest advocacy group with 150,000 members, I am pleased to pledge our strong support for prompt House passage of the Shays-Meehan bill (H.R. 417). It won decisively, with substantial bipartisan support, during the last Congress. All told, today there are 250 members of the House who have either voted for it already or pledged to do so in the future.

As the presidential campaign begins, it is absolutely urgent that Congress move quickly to approve meaningful campaign finance reforms. The flood of unregulated special-interest money that gave rise to the 1996 presidential campaign scandal threatens to become a tidal wave in the 2000 election. At the heart of the problem is “soft money” used for federal elections but raised from sources and in amounts prohibited by federal election law. The amount of soft money taken in the national parties doubled between the 1994 and 1998 congressional elections. At a similar rate of increase, soft money contributions would exceed half a billion dollars in the 2000 elections, up from $263 million in 1996.

But this is not all. Uncounted millions more in soft money collected by state parties is used to influence federal elections. And during 1998, private interests directly spent tens of millions of dollars in largely undisclosed and unregulated “issue ads” that contained not-so-subtle blurbs about particular candidates.

Unless this system is changed, issues such as Social Security, health care, taxes and tobacco will be increasingly decided by the weight of special interest contributions rather than by the will of the majority and their elected representatives. That is why we cannot accept Speaker J. Dennis Hastert’s recent suggestion to delay campaign reform while giving priority to Social Security, health, tax and spending matters. In any case, it doesn’t take much time for the House to pass a bill with such strong bipartisan support.

After the long and partisan struggle over impeachment, Democrats and Republicans now have an opportunity to come together on an issue of fundamental moral and political importance involving the integrity of our election laws. My hat is off to Congressmen Chris Shays and Marty Meehan for the leadership they are continuing to demonstrate today on this central political issue.