Once upon a time Bill Clinton went to a much-ballyhooed fund raising event in Beverly Hills. Rich and famous Hollywood entertainers raised and contributed over a million dollars to the Clinton campaign. A couple of days before, George Bush went to a $2,500-a-person brunch at Bob Hope's estate for the more conservative members of the Hollywood crowd.
Those were just the more visible of presidential campaign fund raising activities this season. President Bush and Governor Clinton have been glad-handing fat cats from coast to coast. And Governor Clinton has gone from matching the president event for event, dollar for dollar, to actually leading him in raising money from fat cats and other special interests (at $100,000 and $200,000 per contributor).
The expenditure of a candidate's time and the potential for corruption that go hand in hand with asking somebody to give you very big bucks are just the evils that Congress promised would be halted when it passed the amendments to the Federal Election Campaign Act in 1974. Those amendments represented a deal: Taxpayers would give presidential candidates public funds from the Treasury in return for their agreeing not to raise private funds.
The amendments are proving to be all loophole. Presidential candidates are allowed to raise money from fat cats for their parties. This is a subterfuge. The candidates control the money and it is almost all spent on helping their own campaigns, one way or another. Even if the money were used for party building, the fact that presidential candidates had to give implied promises to special interests to raise the funds would be contrary to the spirit of the 1974 reforms. (And don't kid yourself that there is never a quid pro quo. Common Cause has documented administration acts and policy changes in 1989-1992 that benefited many of the 249 individuals who gave the Bush campaign at least $100,000 in 1988.)
Some defenders of the present system say that at least public funding has reduced the influence of private interests. Candidates don't have to spend as much time raising as much money as they used to. They don't have to make as many promises and compromises as in the past. Oh, really? Here is an interesting statistic: This year, for the first time, private contributions to presidential campaigns will probably be greater in constant dollars than they were in the scandalous campaign of 1972, in which fund raising was seen as so corrupt that Congress passed its 1974 reforms.