Mass Appeal

Democrats and Republicans can't reach a consensus on how to reform the campaign finance system -- or even if reforms are necessary. But both parties agree on one point. The campaign finance scandals present terrific fund-raising opportunities."You have the power to end the maddening money chase that threatens the very heart of our democracy," Sen. Robert Kerry, D-Neb., chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), says in a direct mailing that went out earlier this year. "You have the power to join with Democrats and Independents across America in reinvigorating our political system."How? By making a "generous contribution" to the DSCC.Kerry's GOP counterpart, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, sees campaign finance reform as a plot by "President Clinton and the liberal Democrats" to "tax more of your money and spend it on who they want in office.""Think about it," McConnell says in an appeal for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC). "They [the Democrats] have been raking in heaps of foreign cash from Communist China, Indonesia, and other foreign countries, but they don't want you to be able to write a perfectly honest personal check to support candidates and issues you believe in."(Reality check: The McCain-Feingold reform bill debated in the Senate had no provisions barring individual contributions. And even more sweeping proposals to provide public campaign financing would let candidates opt out of the system and continue raising private contributions.)So, how does McConnell suggest that Americans fight the assaults on free speech by China, Indonesia, and the Democratic Party?"I implore you to exercise your First Amendment right as an American citizen and write out a check for $34 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee," he urges. "By sitting down and writing our your check for $34 -- which is only $1 per Senate seat up in 1998 -- you are taking an important step toward cleaning up the illegal foreign cash operation at the White House and the Democrat National committee ... and fighting to make sure foreign agents don't have more say in our government than you do."The letters are direct mail appeals for small donations from rank-and-file party members, and both letters use props to encourage participation. McConnell's included a copy of a 10,000 Indonesian Rupiah bank note, and a "Declaration to the President" expressing "disgust over the disgraceful selling out of America." Kerry's letter includes a "Citizen Petition" urging Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., to schedule action on campaign finance reform legislation.Both letters push time-tested political hot buttons. McConnell's combines Cold War-era Communist bashing with fears of foreigners, high taxes, and big government. Besides the pitch for campaign finance reform, Kerry hits the GOP stance on "separation of church and state, women's reproductive choice, Social Security and Medicare, our children's education.""I know it might seem odd, even contradictory, to be asking you for money ... to help drive big money out of the U.S. political system," he writes. "But I believe that we can break the grip of special interests who can put $100,000, $200,000, or even more into a campaign at the drop of the hat. I believe that we can offset their enormous political clout if hundreds of thousands of so-called 'small' contributors are willing to dig deep into their pockets and contribute $25, $35, $50, or even $100 ... Democrats, while no novices at campaign fund-raising, know that races can be run -- and won -- by relying on smaller donations ..."(Reality check: The GOP is historically more reliant than Democrats on small donations. In the 1994 congressional campaigns, for example, House Republicans raised 25 percent of their contributions from donors of less than $200; House Democrats raised just 14 percent from small donors. Senate Republicans raised 22 percent and Democrats 18 percent from small donors.)McConnell's letter pleads for $2.46 million for a communications plan to "get out the facts about the Clinton/Gore team's illegal foreign cash scam -- and their dangerous plan to outlaw American political free speech.""However, we are already at a disadvantage because unlike the Democrat National Committee, we patently refuse to take illegal foreign cash," he writes. "We raise our support from American citizens like you."(Reality check: Republicans also have been accused of raising foreign money. A GOP think tank headed by then-party Chairman Haley Barbour successfully sought $2.2 million in loan guarantees from a Hong Kong-directed company, allowing the think tank to repay $1.6 million in debt to the Republican Party in time for the 1994 elections.)Not every political direct mail appeal this year uses campaign finance reform as a fund-raising device. A recent DSCC fund-raising letter from President Clinton contends that money is urgently needed to contain the GOP's clout in the Senate. The president, who claims to be a campaign finance reform champion, laid out his priorities for the rest of his term."There are many things I want to accomplish over the last years of my presidency -- greater investments in education, expansion of economic opportunity to include even more Americans, further reductions in crime, and improved race relations nationwide."Notice what's missing from the list? Campaign finance reform.


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