Molly Ivins August 14
AUSTIN — And another reason to change this obscene system of campaign financing: There's no way to tell whether people in public office are doing what they think is right or if they've been bought off.
A tax loophole for some rich contributor that benefits no one else is clear enough, but suppose Congress does what United Parcel Service is asking it to do and sends a letter to President Clinton asking him to intervene in the UPS strike? Would that be because congressfolks are convinced that the UPS strike is hurting the economy, or would that be because UPS sharply increased its political action committee donations to prominent politicians in June?
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the UPS PAC gave $163,306 in June. The company denies that it was attempting to buy political clout; it was just the goodness of its corporate heart that caused it to lay generous contributions on House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, Majority Whip Tom DeLay and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle in the month before the company got hit with a strike, which it knew was coming.
Or, to take a more pitiful case, the Cheyenne-Arapahoe Tribe of Oklahoma gave $107,000 to the Democratic National Committee in 1996. These folks were hoping to get a hearing on their long-held claim to 7,500 acres of valuable federal land. This poor tribe went and raided its own welfare fund to get the money for the donation, wanting a chance to pitch their case to Clinton. The DNC returned the money after the story broke, but now, if the feds return the land — to which the Cheyenne-Arapahoe appear to have a just claim — it looks like a payoff.
Meanwhile, Clinton and Gingrich are tied in the hypocrisy sweepstakes on this issue. Clinton, who has several times called for outlawing soft money, raised another half-million in soft money for the Democrats at two fund-raisers Tuesday. "You have to have enough to get your message out, you have to have enough to give people a sense of who you are," quoth the prez, according to the Associated Press.
In the first six months of this year, Gingrich has raised more money for the 1998 re-election race than anyone else in Congress. He has already spent $1.8 million but not on his re-election campaign. In addition to paying the six-figure legal bills stemming from the House ethics case against him, the speaker spent the money on political consultants, direct marketers and public relations, all in an effort to burnish his image, according to The New York Times News Service.
One of Gingrich's fund-raising innovations is the "Incumbent Protection Fund," in which the Republican members of Congress are required to make payments, based on their seniority, into a fund for House candidates in tight races.
While Clinton and Gingrich duel for second place, the winner of the hypocrisy sweepstakes is Sen.
Among those joining McConnell on this festive occasion were the American Medical Association (PAC and soft-money donations since 1987 of $13.8 million), the National Association of Realtors ($13.5 million), the National Education Association ($13 million) Philip Morris Co. ($8 million), AT&T ($8 million), the American Bankers Association ($7.7 million), the National Rifle Association ($7.1 million, RJR Nabisco ($7 million), the National Association of Life Underwriters ($7 million) and the National Association of Homebuilders ($6.9 million). Match up those special interests with major pieces of legislation you've read about, and you'll notice that there's nothing free about their speech as far as the taxpayers are concerned.
One of the participants at the news conference was the National Association of Business PACs, which represents more than 120 business special interests, according to Common Cause. NABPAC groups have given a total of $174 million to congressional candidates and $43.5 million in soft money since 1987. Last year, NABPAC threatened to withhold campaign contributions from members of Congress who supported the bipartisan campaign reform legislation.
McConnell, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, is now preparing for a two-day fund-raiser at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. According to the Los Angeles Times, the invite announces, "The elections of 1998 will be the most hard-fought and expensive in American history" and further informs us that the committee has a "crucial" role "with its ability to accept unlimited corporation contributions."
One of the hundreds of readers who have been forwarding campaign reform slogans to me suggested that we award the winner a McConnell dart board. Not only are great slogans rolling in, but many readers have useful ideas on how to fix this mess — among them, limiting contributions to the district in which the campaign is being fought. Turns out that a lot of you would rather not have your congressman selected by big-money people who don't even live there.
Castrate the campaign cash cow!
Molly Ivins is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
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