There is arguably no issue more important than campaign finance reform. It lurks behind almost every other issue, from health care to gun safety. Sen. John S. McCain's (R-Ariz.) rise to popularity attests to the power of the issue. Every year the chances for meaningful reform improve, as more and more politicians and business leaders become fed up with the system. Vice President Al Gore '69 will lead the fight to give our democracy back to the people and rid Washington of special-interest money once and for all. If Texas Gov. George W. Bush wins, he'll veto reform, and our democracy will continue to erode.
The huge inflow of campaign money is a grave threat to our democracy and it is growing. Gore is committed to cleaning up the system by banning soft money, the unlimited corporate, individual and labor donations that flow into party coffers. His commitment to reform is not new. He proposed full public financing of campaigns when he was first elected to Congress, to completely rid Washington of the overpowering influence of the special-interests.
Were it not for the pervasive influence of special-interest money in the current political system, patients would be protected from HMO abuses, seniors would have access to affordable prescription drugs, guns would be kept out of the hands of criminals and America would be a better place in countless other ways--all because special interests would not be able to block legislation they abhorred. It is the huge inflows of campaign cash from the pharmaceutical industry that have kept a prescription-drug benefit from being added to Medicare. It is the massive financial clout of the National Rifle Association that keeps common-sense gun safety measures from being passed into law.
During the primaries, McCain asked Bush why he opposed common-sense reforms to reduce the influence of big corporations and other special interests on the political process. Bush answered that he refused to support reform because it would "hurt the Republican party." In other words, even though huge soft-money donations are poisonous to our democracy, as long as Republicans raise more than Democrats, then it is just fine with Bush.
Recently, Bush has tried to wrap himself in the rhetoric of reform, while refusing to change his opposition to the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill. Last spring he was a "reformer with results," and he is currently on his "barnstorm tour for reform." In using these phrases, Bush is trying to reach out to reform-minded voters who supported McCain. But when Bush says "reform" he is talking about something very different from the reform sponsored by McCain and Sen. Russell Feingold (R- Wisc.).
Bush is against reforming the system of special interest money that benefits his big contributors. Instead, he wants to "reform" Social Security (i.e. raise the retirement age) and Medicare (i.e. force seniors into HMOs). Reform-minded voters beware. For all his talk of reform, Bush would leave the current system of huge soft-money contributions intact, and the threat to our democracy would continue to grow. Gore is a leader, and he will work with McCain, Feingold and other reformers to clean up the political system and give our democracy back to the people.
John F. Bingaman '02 is a government concentrator in Cabot House. He is the campaigns chair of the Harvard College Democrats.
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