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Jewish World Review March 21, 2000/ 14 Adar II, 5760

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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Consumer Reports



Dough and campaigns -- THANK MARTIN VAN BUREN for wresting federal campaigns from the elitist genteel. At a time when aristocrats merely "stood" for office, Van Buren launched the tool that would bring democracy to voting. In the paraphrased words of Willy Loman, you gotta advertise, boy, you gotta advertise. Van Buren understood the Pillsbury Dough Boy concept --- crescent rolls don't sell without ads. We don't sing Bob Seger's "Like a Rock" for nothing. Chevy brought us the tune complete with trucks and mud 12 times per football quarter. Whether selling dancing Pop- Tarts or John McCain (the author attempts no metaphor), you have to hit America where it lives - - in TV land, mostly witnessing millionaires by multiple choice. Neither GM nor GW gets through without dollars.

Given dollar realities and fund-raising's way of breaking the aristocracy's hold, it is mysterious that campaign finance is a focal point for the 2000 presidential candidates. Mr. Gore's reformist bent follows a narrow escape with the downed-ice-tea/men's-room-trek-during-key- agenda-items ("Funneling Cash Through Nuns: The Perils)-defense. A whopping 3 percent care about campaign finance reform --- roughly the same percentage who believe aliens gave birth to Al Gore near Roswell, New Mexico. The alien theorists have the more valid point. In ad parlance, where's the beef?

There are only two worries in campaign finance: whether current laws are enforced and who is giving how much to whom.

The Reno Justice Department specializes in gunning down geeks with monopolies, ala Bill Gates, or religious zealots with small children, ala Waco. The Clinton administration's funneling of money from foreign special interests into the Democrat's tills has escaped the crackerjack flat foots of Reno. Foreign money in U.S. elections might influence the elected beneficiaries of foreign dough to send defense technology to donor nations where birth control includes infanticide. In fact, the Clinton administration has given away just about everything related to nuclear technology except complimentary lab coats. Maria Hsia's trial and conviction for the Buddhist Temple fund extravaganza featured footage of the Roswellian alpha male father of the Internet. But, Ms. Reno gave Mr. Gore and the Clintons a pass despite memos from Louis Freeh, the FBI director, and Charles LaBella, the special prosecutor for the '96 elections, that read, "In the name of everything holy, indict these people."

Full information cracks campaign finance. Voters can break the infamous iron triangle of McCain fame (although he remains confused about the triangle's apexes) with the ultimate power of backlash. All the ads on the Super Bowl can't overcome the beholden perception voters gain from donation revelations.

Soft money takes the beating in campaign finance for its excess. Source, not amount, matters. Instant and universal disclosure of donations would be dramatic and influential. A look at the 98 election cycle hard dollars, where there is, albeit tardy, mandatory disclosure (about 18 months after the vote), provides a telling glimpse of electoral financial powers.

Hard-dollar political action committees, with donation limits, reporting requirements and no tax deduction, still reflect political clout. The wealthiest PAC, in terms of cash-on-hand, is Emily's List, an acronym for Early Money is Like Yeast. Emily's List funds only pro-choice female candidates in primaries (early) and then sees them through the general election. Emily's List pulled off 1992's year of the woman and remains a formidable force in federal elections thanks to Hollywood donations.

The wealthiest trade PAC and one of the largest donors overall is the American Trial Lawyers Association (ATLA) with two token Republican members. The lawyers fund those candidates who believe tort reform is medieval torture and punitive damages are an inalienable right. ATLA is a big dollar friend of Hillary! and her occasional domestic partner.

Unions outspent the corporate PACs by almost six to one. Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum spent 1/100 what Emily's List did. The Plumber's Union spent twice as much as Eagle Forum. The NRA was topped by Emily's List and AFSCME (government employees' union) by almost $3,000,000 each. UPS was the top corporate PAC, but it spent one-fourth what Emily's List did and was dead even with the trial lawyers.

To whom these PACs give is equally revealing. 93% of Corporate PACS gave to incumbents whereas only 75% of union PACs do. Corporate PACs have no ideological bents — they place bets to win. This kind of information is available from Project Vote Smart, a non-profit organization that offers voters information about candidates' funding, voting records and positions. As a founding member in the late 1980s, I have watched it grow. The Internet has strengthened it and expanded its reach because voters have 24/7.

Ads, campaigns and money stick together like Pillsbury dough. Knowing who's paying is powerful, vote-swaying information. Couple that detail with a little backbone from Ms. Reno on enforcing existing laws and campaign finance reform is complete -- like a rock.

JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.


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© 2000, Marianne M. Jennings