In Common: keeping up the pressure for reform

In Common: keeping up the pressure for reform – campaign financing legislation lobbying by Common Cause

Jackie Howell

IN MAY CC LAUNCHED its 90 Day Countdown Campaign, a grassroots lobbying effort designed to ensure passage, before Congress adjourns for the year, of three vital reform and government accountability issues: campaign finance reform, lobbying disclosure and gift reform, and the independent counsel statute.

In June the 90 Day Countdown Campaign tallied its first victory, passage of the independent counsel statute. The victory followed nearly two years of efforts to reestablish the government accountability reform that Congress had allowed to die in December 1992. A key post-Watergate reform, the law was created to ensure that there would be an independent investigation of allegations against high-level executive branch officials who could not be investigated credibly by the attorney general.

As the congressional session nears an end, CC has intensified its efforts to press Congress to enact campaign finance reform and lobby disclosure and gift reform.

CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM

Although the Senate passed a campaign finance bill June 1993 and the House followed with its own bill in November 1993, Congress had yet to agree on a final campaign finance reform package at press time.

President Clinton, who pledged during his 1992 campaign and at the outset of his administration to make campaign finance reform a priority, has failed to keep his pledge. At the same time House Democratic leaders have intensely resisted cutting the amount an individual PAC can contribute to a candidate and have opposed other important reforms necessary to get a strong bill and retain the support of key Senate Republicans, who are needed to break an expected filibuster.

There is no real justification for the refusal of House Democrats to reach a reasonable agreement to cut the individual PAC limit. Because of the aggregate PAC limit in the House-passed bill, which would cap the total PAC contributions a candidate could accept, the individual PAC limit House Democrats are opposing would actually have minimal effect.

The refusal of House Democrats to accept a reasonable agreement on the individual PAC limit will ultimately kill the reform effort this year. CC is pressing House Democratic leaders to end their opposition to cutting the individual PAC limit and to agree with Senate Democratic leaders to cut the limit in half.

On June 22, more than 100 CC members and other concerned citizens converged outside President Clinton’s Dinner, a major Democratic fundraising event at the Washington Hilton. They protested President Clinton’s inaction on the campaign finance reform issue. On June 27, CC members protested at another fundraiser hosted by President Clinton, this time outside the St. Regis Hotel in New York City. In 1992 CC protested at a similar dinner held by President Bush.

Carrying huge banners and signs, CC demonstrators urged President Clinton to meet the campaign commitment he made to clean up the campaign finance system in Washington. Earlier that day, CC had released a major study showing that President Clinton has become the principal beneficiary of the corrupt soft money system he pledged to change.

According to the CC study, President Clinton and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) raised $40.5 million in soft money contributions from corporations, labor unions, wealthy individuals and others during the 21-month period since President Clinton received the Democratic presidential nomination in July 1992. That amount is nearly twice the $21.4 million raised by President Bush and the Republicans during the same period.

One hundred contributors gave $100,000 or more in soft money to President Clinton and the Democrats, and the list of Clinton soft money donors included a number of fat cat “switch hitters” — wealthy donors who had previously given $100,000 or more in soft money contributions to President Bush.

The “switch hitters” included agribusiness titan Dwayne Andreas, financier Carl Lindner, oil and entertainment mogul Marvin Davis, Arco chair Lodwrick Cook, and cosmetics maven Ronald Perelman.

The largest donors to the Democratic Party include Time Warner, which has contributed more than half a million dollars; and the National Education Association, the Shorenstein Company, software developers Peter and Eileen Norton and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, all givers of $300,000 or more.

President Clinton, The New York Times editorialized, “has yet to press hard for his proposals to clean up a campaign financing system that binds lawmakers to special interests. Indeed, the president has actively participated in, and his party has hugely profited from one of the system’s worst features — a loophole that allows the two parties to raise so-called ‘soft money’ in large chunks that evade present caps on direct giving to candidates.”

CC also has intensified its grassroots activities in the House and Senate. CC activists and volunteers in Washington, D.C. have staged weekly lunch-time demonstrations in front of key office buildings on Capital Hill. Activists around the country are conducting similar demonstrations and flyer distributions in front of the local offices of key representatives.

CC activists have also been generating telephone calls to the offices of the seven Republican senators whose votes were key to ending the campaign finance reform filibuster in 1993 and whose continued support is essential.

LOBBY DISCLOSURE AND GIFT BAN

ON MAY 11, the U.S. Senate passed S. 1935, comprehensive gift ban legislation, 95 to 4. The bill prohibits members of Congress from accepting any gifts from lobbyists, including meals and entertainment, subject to certain exceptions for family and personal friends. It also prohibits privately financed trips for members of Congress that are primarily recreational and prohibits lobbyists from contributing to members’ legal defense funds, charities and private foundations.

The crucial gift ban vote, however, had come earlier in the week, when Senators voted 59 to 39 to defeat a substitute amendment offered by Sens. Mitch McConnnell (R-Ky.) and Bennett Johnston (D-La.). The substitute would have allowed the current system of lobbyist-financed meals, trips, and entertainment to continue.

S. 1935 was sent to a House-Senate conference committee to be considered as part of a lobbying and gift reform package based on House and Senate lobbying disclosure and gift reform bills passed in 1993. At press time the committee had not agreed on a final bill.

CC is urging the conference committee to adopt the stronger Senate gift ban provisions and thereby close the serious loopholes contained in the House lobbying reform bill. The House bill allows members, their staffs and families to continue to take golf, skiing and tennis trips financed by special interests. CC also urged the conference committee to drop a House provision that would undermine the current criminal statute prohibiting illegal gratuities for members of Congress and other public officials.

Governing Board Election

COMMON CAUSE MEMBERS HAVE ELECTED the following 20 individuals to the 60-member National Governing Board, with three-year terms that began in June.

DAVID CAMPBELL, Albuquerque, N.M.

INCHUL CHOI, Chicago, Ill.

ARCHIBALD COX, Wayland, Mass. (reelected)

CASSIE LEVITT DIPPO, Salt Lake City, Utah.

JOE MORRIS DOSS, D.D., Princeton, N.J.

LISA FOSTER, San Diego, Calif.

JOHN HILDRETH, Austin, Texas. (reelected)

SUSAN LEDERMAN, New Providence, N.J.

HUBERT LOCKE, Seattle, Wash.

RUTH MILBURN, Houston, Texas.

JONATHAN MOTL, Helena, Mont. (reelected)

CANDICE NELSON, Great Falls, Va.

JEANNE NOBLE, New York, N.Y. (reelected)

ROSALIE SCHIFF, Littleton, Colo. (reelected)

ALAN SCHWARTZ, Aspen, Colo.

JONNY LEE STIFFARM, Eagle Butte, S.D.

SISTER NANCY SYLVESTER, IHM, Monroe, Mich. (reelected)

HARRY WELLINGTON, New Haven, Conn. (reelected)

FRED WERTHEIMER, Washington, D.C. (reelected)

TRACY WESTEN, Los Angeles, Calif. (reelected)

IN THE STATES

VICTORIES AT THE STATEHOUSE AND THE BALLOT BOX

THE SUMMER OPENED with two campaign financing victories: As a result of action by Common Cause state organizations, Massachusetts and Long Beach, Calif., adopted reforms featuring public financing.

When it looked like Massachusetts voters would have a chance to vote for comprehensive campaign finance reform, the state legislature suddenly “saw the wisdom of their ways,” and adopted its own financing prescription, says CC/MASSACHUSETTS Executive Director Nathan Gibson.

The Boston Globe editorialized, “Common Cause deserves enormous credit. … Even the legislative leaders admitted that the bill would never have had a chance without the threat from Common Cause.”

The Massachusetts legislature adopted a plan that would provide partial public financing of statewide campaigns, limit private campaign contributions to $500 per primary or general election, place a $200 cap on lobbyists’ donations and ban all gifts made to legislators by lobbyists. The new law requires donors of more than $200 to disclose their occupations, puts a $1.5 million spending ceiling on each gubernatorial primary and general election and places a $375,000 limit on other statewide races.

Earlier this year CC/Massachusetts, with help from other citizens’ groups, collected more than 81,000 signatures on a petition that directed the legislature to act on comprehensive campaign finance reform — or else have it go directly to voters as a ballot initiative in November.

Facing that choice, lawmakers decided to write their own bill. A Common Cause plan would have limited individuals’ campaign contributions to $100 per candidate for each primary or general election, limited PAC contributions to $500 per election and provided tax credits for contributions to candidates who agreed to abide by campaign spending limits. It also would have prohibited incumbents from amassing campaign “war chests” to scare off opposition.

REFORM WITHOUT SCANDAL

Although the vice mayor called it “welfare for politicians,” and the local newspaper opposed it, in June voters in Long Beach, Calif., adopted a public financing system for local elections that also limits contributions from individuals, corporations and political action committees. Perhaps the most surprising element of the plan, according to CC/CALIFORNIA board member Lisa Foster: It was not born out of scandal.

The campaign for the ordinance was led by CC National Governing Board member Norma Mayfield. It will limit mayoral candidates to spending $200,000 in a primary and $100,000 in a runoff. (In 1990 Mayor Ernie Kell spent $580,000 to win election.) For the city council, the limits will be $40,000 and $20,000; for prosecutor and auditor, $100,000 and $50,000. The new law limits contributions to $250 for council races and $500 for the mayor’s race.

The measure establishes a Clean Government Fund, which will provide matching funds to all candidates. Contributions for the fund will be solicited via monthly utility bills — with any shortfall being made up by the city’s general fund. To qualify for matching funds, mayoral candidates will have to raise at least $20,000, council candidates $5,000, other candidates $10,000. Those who meet these standards will receive $1 for every $2 they raise, up to one-third of the spending ceiling. Candidates qualify for matching funds only by abiding by the spending limits.

CC/California Executive Director Ruth Holton says the success in Long Beach is a sign of the general public’s support for public financing. “Long Beach is Republican and very representative of the middle ground,” she says.

THE MERIT SYSTEM

It may have taken the potential impeachment of two successive chief justices of the Rhode Island State Supreme Court, but CC/RHODE ISLAND has helped to usher in dramatic reforms to insure that future judicial selections are based on merit rather than cronyism. The judicial system there has been fraught with corruption, says CC/Rhode Island Executive Director Phil West.

In November, citizens will vote on a constitutional amendment to let the governor nominate judges and allow the state legislature the right to reject those nominees. The current system, in which the legislature elects Supreme Court justices and the governor appoints lower court judges, has led to what one observer called “one travesty after another.” According to State Chair Cathleen Speer, “We knew if we were not going to do it now, we were never going to do it.”

CC/Rhode Island, along with a consortium of other public interest groups, helped push a plan establishing a nine-member Judicial Nominating Commission, which would present the governor with a list of three to five candidates for each court vacancy. The governor would pick from that list, and all court appointments would be subject to confirmation by the state legislature. West says the new law “will greatly reduce the political maneuvering that has characterized judicial selection.”

COPYRIGHT 1994 Common Cause Magazine

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