Clean Elections: antidote to unhealthy campaign financing.

Author:Nyhart, Nick
Position:Cover story

These days you need a score card to keep track of congressional money in politics scandals.

First and foremost, there is Rep. Tom DeLay (R TX), who resigned from office following his indictment on money laundering charges in Texas and the exposure of his many ties to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Then there is former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R CA), who exited Capitol Hill after he was convicted for taking bribes from defense contractors. Don't forget Rep. Alan Mollohan (D WV), who is under investigation for steering earmarks toward companies and nonprofits that gave money to his favorite charity. There is also Rep. William Jefferson (D LA), under investigation on bribery charges with $90,000 stashed in his freezer. And, we can't neglect Rep. Bob Ney (R OH) whose name keeps turning up as Abramoff associates one by one are convicted for various crimes.

Take a deep breath. All is not lost. Scandals of this magnitude create opportunities for major reform. The Watergate break-in helped inspire the 1974 campaign finance laws, establishing contribution limits and the partial public funding system for presidential campaigns. The implosion of Enron aided passage of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA), eliminating massive soft money contributions to federal party committees. Scandal creates the political will to get things done.

If there were ever a time to push hard for passage of Clean Elections, the public financing of elections, it is now. Clean Elections is already the law in seven states and two municipalities. Unlike other campaign finance reforms that typically seek to close loopholes through which special interest money makes its way into candidates' coffers, Clean Elections changes the way elections are financed. Candidates who qualify by raising a specified number of small contributions, typically five dollars, receive a grant of public money to run their campaigns. In exchange, they promise to take no more private money and abide by strict spending limits. Clean Elections levels the playing field so that qualified people who otherwise would not run for office can run competitive campaigns.

What does any of this have to do with DeLay, Cunningham, Jefferson and company? Imagine this: What if House or Senate candidates had a source of disinterested money to run their campaigns? What if they didn't have to rely on the likes of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff to organize fundraisers and funnel cash their way? What if...

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