The Facts About George W. Bush?s Campaign Finance Plan
The soft money ban on corporations and unions exempts wealthy individuals (who gave $70 million out of $262 million to national parties in 1996). It provides an incentive, particularly to corporations, to launder their contributions through well-paid executives.
There is no effective soft money ban, because state parties are not covered. Thus, current corporate and union donors can be encouraged by national parties to give soft money to state parties, and the state parties can spend it on sham “issue” ads and other activities to influence federal elections. Such “directed donor” programs were already widespread in the 1996 election. Moreover, unlike federal soft money, state soft money is not publicly disclosed.
A “paycheck protection” provision would require union members to give advance approval for unions to spend dues on “political activities.” This is unnecessary and is guaranteed to be a “poison pill” to Democrats, whose support is necessary for bipartisan reform. First, an effective ban on soft money and the regulation of phony issue ads — as contained in the legislation Sens. McCain and Feingold and Reps. Shays and Meehan have sponsored — would prevent unions from using dues for these purposes. Second, in the 21 right-to-work states, workers are as free to join or not to join unions as they are to join such groups as the Christian Coalition, National Rifle Association or Americans for Tax Reform. None of these group members — or corporate shareholders, for that matter — need big brother to protect their dues or investments. Third, in the 29 states where workers are required to pay dues to unions representing them, workers who do not wish to pay political portions are free to object in writing and have their dues proportionally reduced. This right, declared by the Supreme Court in the 1988 Beck case, is further codified in the McCain-Feingold/Shays-Meehan legislation.
Bush opposes reformers’ efforts to put sham TV and radio issue ads mentioning candidates within 60 days of an election under the same regulatory scheme as other campaign ads: public disclosure of contributors and limits on contributions (none from corporations and unions and no more than $5,000 from contributors to PACs that run these ads). His claim that such restrictions are unconstitutional is not supported by many legal scholars.
Bush indicates he wants to raise the limit on individual contributions to candidates from $1,000 to $3,400 per election, to account for inflation since 1974. This would drastically increase the role of wealthy individuals in funding and thus influencing Congress and the administration.
Bush’s proposals to prohibit rollovers of federal campaign money to a campaign for another federal office and for rapid one-week Internet disclosure of contributions are positive, though marginal reforms.
Banning federally registered lobbyists from contributing during congressional sessions will only compress their contributions to the two months a year Congress is out of session.* Of course, it does nothing about the bundling of contributions collected by lobbyists.
* During the 1999 legislative session, Bush took $500,000 in contributions to his presidential campaign from polluters, whom he protected from mandatory cleanup rules, even though Texas law forbids such contributions to state office holders during the legislative session.
For more information, contact Steve Weissman, Public Citizen lobbyist, at 202-454-5182.