Presidential Campaign Spending Triples

Despite all the hot air about campaign finance reform that's been blowing through the halls of government for decades, special interest money continues to flood the coffers of major parties and their candidates. In fact, fundraising for federal election campaigns this year is shattering all previous records. The presidential candidates will dole out three times the 1992 number by spending roughly $800 million, largely accrued from large corporations and players in the financial sector. Congressional spending also will top $800 million--albeit an increasing number of citizen reform initiatives surfacing nationwide--according to a new study by the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics. The Center's report on who is paying for American elections examined political action committee (PAC) contributions, soft money contributions to the national parties, and PAC and large individual donations to President Bill Clinton and former Senator Bob Dole's campaigns."We are looking at a price tag, for federal elections alone, of more than $1.6 billion," said Center Executive Director Ellen Miller in a written statement. "American elections are paid for, overwhelmingly, by economically-interested industries and by a small handful of individuals who are the wealthiest in American society. We have a political system paid for by Wall Street, not Main Street."Instead of endowments by ordinary citizens, contributions for this year's elections were derived from both domestic and foreign corporations that trade them for political favors. The habitual practice, itself, is non-affiliation specific: Accusations currently are flying about the Clinton campaign's Indonesian Lippo Corp. ties, Dole's kinship with agriculture magnate Archer-Daniels-Midland, Speaker Newt Gingrich's association with the Golden Rule Financial Corp., and the much-lauded affinity between the GOP and the tobacco lobby.The Center's findings revealed that the financial section of big business--led by securities firms, banks, and the insurance and real estate industries--gave a combined $59.8 million through the first 18 months of the 1995-96 election cycle. Nearly two-thirds of it went to Republicans.The biggest single campaign donor so far is tobacco giant Philip Morris, which gave a combined $2.7 million through PAC dollars, soft money to the parties, and large individual donations by corporate executives. More than $2 million of that came in soft money, and Republicans collected 78 percent of the Philip Morris donations on the whole.The most dramatic turnaround in campaign contribution trends, said the Center, was in PAC money distributed by business groups to congressional candidates. In 1994, both parties collected roughly equal amounts from business PACS. This time, Republicans have outraised Democrats 2-1. Overall, GOP candidates collected almost 90 percent more from PACs in the first 18 months of the election cycle than they did two years earlier. Meanwhile, Democratic PAC contributions dropped by 23 percent. On the whole, PAC dollars increased by almost 15 percent over 1994 levels, concluded the study."It's as though you've got this gushing river," said Randy Kehler, co-founder of the Working Group on Electoral Democracy. "Until there's a dam, it will keep coming in torrents."Fed up with the all-talk, no-action attitude of so many elected officials, citizen grassroots movements are surfacing in states nationwide, sounding the clarion of reform by placing campaign finance initiates on November ballots. Editorial pages are brimming with reform demands and proposals, and such watchdog groups as the Center have stepped up research efforts. Armed with data from the nonprofit campaign finance reform group Common Cause, Reform Party candidate Ross Perot devoted his 30 minutes of pre-debate time on NBC Wednesday night to charges against Dole and Clinton of "the most massive violation of the campaign finance laws since the Watergate scandal."Congress, on the other hand, has tabled the issue and the main-party candidates have largely ignored reform speak in the debates.How do they get away with it? "The short answer is, because they can," said Common Cause lobbyist Matt Keller. "President Clinton is a fundraising machine.... In D.C., everyone [Democrats and Republicans] kind of winks at this behavior."Miller agrees: "We had to laugh last Sunday when Speaker Newt Gingrich accused the Clinton administration of offering special deals for big campaign contributions. If campaign contributions from private interests who seek special favors are a problem for Democrats, which indeed they are, then they are also a problem for Republicans. "It's time we came down hard on the political double standard."

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