From the beginning of the 2000 presidential campaign, much of the political discussion has been focused around campaign finance reform. Throughout this important debate, Texas Gov. George W. Bush has been dedicated to eliminating powerful corporate directors and union bosses and increasing the role of the individual in the political process. Consistent with his overall opinions on government, Bush trusts the people to wisely dictate appropriate campaign expenditures on an individual level, while his opponent trusts the government to manage campaign money. While Vice President Al Gore '69 would like to paint Bush as deaf to the campaign finance cause, Bush's plan does more to protect the people's interest and prevents the control of the system by organizational leaders.
The main debate on campaign finance reform is over the banning of so-called "soft money" contributions. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) defines soft money as money raised by national parties and other groups for everything other than advocating the election or defeat of a particular candidate for federal office. It is considered "soft" because it is exempt from FEC limits, although party soft money is reported to the FEC and regulated by states. Bush proposes to ban all soft money used in federal campaigns. While many try to paint Republicans as being the party of soft money, actual figures show that the Democratic National Committee received 49 percent of its income in the 1996 presidential campaign in soft dollar donations, compared to only 37 percent of Republican National Committee funding from soft money.
As is true with all of his campaign proposals, Bush advocates the increased role of the individual in the political process. Rather than living under the archaic limits set in 1976, Bush is proposing to properly adjust the personal contribution limit for inflation by raising it from $1,000 to $3,000 in each election period. This change reflects the focus on the individual as a decision-maker in the political process; it takes control of election funding out of the hands of corporate and union bosses and returns it to individuals.
In continuing his commitment to protecting the individual, Bush's plan also provides for paycheck protection for union members. In a testimony before congress, Professor Leo Troy of Rutgers University estimated that union leaders spend between $300 and $500 million in union dues annually to support candidates. This money is spent without permission of union members. Rather than allowing union bosses to control this enormous amount of individuals' money, Bush will ensure that union members' dues are protected from leaders who spend their money without consent. Gore, in contrast, does nothing to protect the enormous amount of unsupervised spending on the part of union leaders.
Bush's campaign finance reform plan also bans lobbyists from contributing to members of Congress while Congress is in session. This change dramatically enforces the integrity of our governmental processes as special interests or companies will be restricted from improperly influencing legislative decisions. Gore does recognize that this procedure is important--his plan only requires that lobbyists disclose their activities and does nothing to prevent companies or other lobbies from influencing legislative affairs. As part of his commitment to restoring dignity to the federal government, Bush would prohibit special interests from unfairly influencing matters that should be left for constituents alone to decide.
In the famous Buckley v. Valeo case of 1996, the Supreme Court ruled that "The First Amendment denies government the power to determine that spending to promote one's political views is wasteful, excessive or unwise. In the free society ordained by our Constitution it is not the government, but the people who must retain control over the quantity and range of debate on public issues in a political campaign." Bush believes that campaign finance reform is vital to maintaining the integrity of the political process. While Gore claims to be the candidate of campaign finance reform, it seems unwise to trust the man who claimed that "no controlling legal authority" had jurisdiction over his 1996 Buddhist monastery fundraiser. Bush will restore integrity to campaign funding and protect the rights of the individual to control the political nominating process.
Heather A. Woodruff '03 is an economics concentrator in Leverett House and the co-chair of Harvard Students for Bush. Mattie J. Germer '03 is a government concentrator in Lowell House and an officer of the Harvard Republican Club.
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