America's $1.6 billion election Money, money, money: Political system drowning in funds from home -- and abroad.


TO THE EXTENT that the current flap over Indonesian contributions to the Democratic Party awakens Americans to the fact that their political system is drowning in money, it will serve a good purpose. What is needed is public outrage on a scale comparable to what it took to force Washington embrace the concept of a balanced budget. Then, and only then, is it conceivable that the first campaign finance reform since post-Watergate 1974 might actually see the light of day.

The spectacle of foreign interests buying their way into Washington's corridors of power is bad enough. But actually, their contributions are peanuts compared to the avalanche of money coming from domestic sources. The non-profit Center for Responsible Politics estimates that $800 million is being spent on this year's presidential campaign -- three times the price tag of the 1992 campaign -- and another $800 million is pouring into congressional races.

Both major political parties like to point the finger of blame at one another. But they are equally guilty of sustaining a system they hypocritically deplore.

Time and time again, proposals have been made to close down the bazaar where politicians spend too much of their time pocketing or panhandling for money. Democrats pledged campaign reform during the Clinton victory year in 1992. Republicans echoed that promise after their triumph in 1994. Both failed. Sufficient numbers of incumbents found ways to protect a status quo that keeps them in office. They love all the "soft money" and PAC money and celebrity money they can get.

President Clinton, as a governor, taught fellow Arkansans how to do it. He raised so much money, would-be rivals ducked for cover. Now he operates nationwide. Bob Dole as Republican leader in the Senate became a leading obstacle to campaign finance reform, according to Common Cause. But if he wishes to demagogue as a candidate who is shocked that illegal contributions from Asian sources found their way into Democratic coffers, we say more power to him. Let him demagogue until election day if it will help arouse the American people to a cancer that is eating away at their birthright.

Perhaps only a major scandal, or series of scandals, is required to make politicians so fearful of voter wrath that they reform a system that is a disgrace to them and to the nation. If that is the case, let the investigations and indictments begin.

Pub Date: 10/22/96

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