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Voters Support Campaign Finance Reform Candidates

Nov. 4, 1998

Voters Support Campaign Finance Reform Candidates

Major State Campaign Money Reform Initiatives Win

While campaign spending soared to new heights in yesterday?s off-year Congressional elections, keeping most incumbents in office, the most dramatic election results proved that the urgent issue of campaign finance reform, stalled by a Senate filibuster last September, can be a critical factor.

“The soft money spectacular of the 2000 presidential election is on the launch pad,” said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. “The new Congress should read yesterday?s political tea leaves correctly, stop its stalling, and take prompt action to end our system of legalized bribery.”

Voters in North Carolina rejected Republican Sen. Lauch Faircloth, who had been dubbed “Senator for Sale” by Forbes Magazine, in favor of Democrat John Edwards, a self-described “populist” who refused campaign contributions from lobbyists and political action committees. Among key issues in Edwards? campaign were Faircloth?s opposition to the right to sue health maintenance organizations (HMOs) for failure to provide necessary care and the contributions he received (including hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of sham issue ads) from managed care interests.

In New York, political observers attributed Republican Sen. Alfonse D?Amato?s defeat largely to his stained ethics record, including his many political favors for big campaign contributors, and his opposition to campaign finance reform. Exit polls indicated nearly two-thirds of voters did not consider D?Amato “honest or trustworthy.” D?Amato?s opponent — Democratic Rep. Charles Schumer– emphasized his strong support for legislation to ban unlimited contributions of soft money to political parties and unlimited spending on campaign ads masquerading as “issue ads.”

And in Wisconsin, Democratic Sen. Russell Feingold — a lead sponsor of bipartisan campaign finance reform legislation in the Senate — made reform a major issue by boldly rejecting outside Democratic Party and interest group financial support (particularly soft money and phony issue ads). Despite this unilateral disarmament in the face of an estimated barrage of $2 million in outside Republican Party assistance to challenger Rep. Mark Neumann — about 50 percent more than what Feingold and Neumann had previously agreed to spend — Feingold prevailed. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the leading Senate opponent of campaign finance reform and head of the Republican Senate Campaign Committee, had long predicted Feingold?s demise.

In his home state, McConnell and the state Republican Party threw all the money they could to defeat Democratic Rep. Scotty Baesler, a leading House campaign reformer who ran for the open Senate seat in Kentucky. However, McConnell?s prot?g?, Republican Rep. Jim Bunning, won by scarcely more than 5,000 votes out of more than 1.1 million cast in a campaign noted for its bitter personal attacks.

Last but not least, victories for comprehensive state reform initiatives in relatively liberal Massachusetts and relatively conservative Arizona show that, when given the chance to replace corrupting large private campaign contributions with public financing, Americans of all political stripes choose meaningful reform. Arizona and Massachusetts now join Maine and Vermont where similar “clean money” reforms have passed in recent years.

CHART: Comparing soft and hard money contributions to political parties and contributions to candidates in the 1998 congressional election and in the previous midterm election of 1994.