A Socialist Labor Party Statement—

The Campaign Reform Hoax

Politicians in Washington and throughout the country are resorting to all kinds of tactics and attention-getting gimmicks intended to demonstrate to the electorate that they are thoroughly honest and free of improper influence. It would prove difficult to find another period when so many "sinners" got "religion" at the same time.

Some are proclaiming that they paid their income taxes in full, a few going so far as to state publicly how much they paid.

One California candidate seeking a congressional nomination ran a 19¢-a-plate dinner to prove his "independence” from big-money interests.

Another candidate for a congressional nomination (in Illinois), to prove that, if elected, he intended to represent all his constituents fairly, reportedly incorporated himself under the name "Congress, Incorporated," and sold shares in himself. If elected, every "shareholder" supposedly will be entitled to a fair share of the Congressman's attention.

A candidate for lieutenant governor in Georgia was reported to be handing out "warranties," promising refunds if his performance in office did not satisfy his campaign contributors. In such cases, a dissatisfied contributor would fill out the "warranty" form, explain his or her reasons for dissatisfaction and demand a refund.

Limiting the Temptation

Others have set their own limits on how much money they will accept from individuals for their campaign funds. Senator Richard Schweiker (R.-Pa.), for example, doesn't want anyone to contribute more than $3,000, and any contribution over $10 must be by check.

Senator Charles Mathias (R.-Md.) has stated he will not accept more than $100 from anyone.

Neither will Republican Congressman Pierre du Pont of Delaware, not even from any of the du Ponts.

The same announcement has been made by Congressman Robert H. Steele, who is making a run for the Republican nomination for governor of Connecticut.

But even as some are laying stress on "integrity" and "independence," the major party politicians in Congress (and in a number of state legislatures) are taking steps to provide major party candidates with ample campaign funds without exposing them to allegations that they may have "sold out" to special interests.

Public Campaign Financing

Presently, the U.S. Senate is considering a bill to provide public financing for the major party candidates for president and Congress. Under this bill, individual contributions to a candidate for any federal office would be limited to $3,000. "Issue-oriented organizations," e.g., the National Committee for an Effective Congress, would be allowed to contribute up to $6,000.

A seven-member commission would be created to administer the provisions of the law and disburse the public funds, which are to be—in fact, are being—raised through the checkoff on federal income tax reports.

If the financing plan works out as intended, the major party presidential candidates would each get at least $21 million out of the public till for their general election campaigns.

Each major party candidate for the Senate or the House would receive public funds on the basis of the number of voters in the particular state or congressional district. On the basis of the per capita figures being considered, a senatorial candidate in a state like California could get up to $2 million for the general election. A candidate for the House of Representatives could get up to $90,000.

The bill also includes provisions that would enable such candidates to qualify for public funds for primary elections as well.

One senator estimated that the public campaign funds provided for in the bill could result in $100 million being spent for future House campaigns compared with a total of $39 million spent in the 1972 campaigns for House seats.

Those who support the concept of public funding of campaigns are attempting to give such proposals an aura of morality. For example, The New York Times, an ardent and vociferous supporter of the concept, has urged passage of the Senate bill as "an admirable measure." It has contended that—

"The bill would not lock parties and candidates into a novel or rigid arrangement. Rather it curbs the abuses of private financing and offers public financing as an alternative route to elected office. Since the old private route has become choked with scandal, it cannot—unreformed and unaided—serve democracy's need much longer. Now is the time to provide a public alternative." (March 27)

The hypocrisy of the Times’ position (and of those for whom it speaks) is illuminated by an observation in one of its editorials a week later in which it stated:

"In every society there are disparities of power. Campaign reform is no panacea that will insure full political equality. But in a democratic society, legislators ought to strive in every reasonable way to lessen disparities of political power and to give ordinary citizens participation and access."

However, despite its professed concern regarding the "disparities of political power," the Times urges passage of a bill that it must know will result in public funds going only to the major party candidates, thereby increasing rather than lessening the "disparities."

Consistent with this concept of "democracy," the Times has repeatedly advocated the complete elimination of Section 315 of the Federal Communications Act, so that free time on the public airwaves may be given to major party candidates with no meaningful obligation to minority party candidates.

Moreover, it has been conspicuously silent on the growing restrictions upon the "free" ballot and "free" elections in state after state.

Legislating Honesty

Though the point has been made many times before, it bears repeating. Morality and honesty cannot be legislated. The experience with the 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act offers emphatic reaffirmation of that fact. Not even the Watergate scandals have had any significant effect. They have resulted merely in a change of tactics.

Even as Congress is considering public financing bills, private fundraising continues. News headlines recently proclaimed that "myriad political interest committees" already had $14 to $15 million on hand for the 1974 elections. And the money reportedly was being accumulated "at an unprecedented pace for a midterm election." (The Record, March 29)

Fundraising at the state level also illustrates the contradictions between the words and the actions of major party candidates. For example, late in March a citizens group recommended a series of reforms for New York State's election and campaign laws. According to a report in the March 26 issue of The New York Times, Democratic gubernatorial aspirant Howard J. Samuels expressed his opposition to the panel's proposal that a spending limit of 50 cents a vote be set. Samuels contended that this was too high, that it would permit a $2 million primary.

The same issue of the Times reported that Samuels had released the names of those who had contributed or lent money to his campaigns. It showed that although the New York gubernatorial primaries would not take place until September, Samuels already had spent close to $360,000. This was before the New York gubernatorial campaign could even be said to be under way.

And it might be noted that Samuels is not leading the spending parade. A few days later, another Democratic gubernatorial hopeful, Representative Ogden R. Reid, disclosed that by February 28 he had received contributions totaling almost $512,000 and had spent over $470,000.

The fact is that with Watergate as the excuse, steps are being taken that constitute a growing menace to the already severely curtailed free ballot. Huge government subsidies to the major party candidates will serve to institutionalize the "two-party system," which has no basis in law, no basis in fact and no basis in America's traditional concept of free elections. The claim that a "two-party system" is a democratic arrangement is particularly absurd in face of the fact that there is no basic or important difference between the two major parties.

Millions of words have been uttered and written on the need to eliminate corruption from the election process, on the need to assure the people "a choice," and on the need to keep campaigns open to new social concepts. Yet, as far as we can ascertain, not a word of concern has been expressed in the halls of Congress, or by the major news media—not even by the usual voices of libertarianism—over the fact that the legislation being proposed at both the state and federal level will place new burdens upon minority parties and hasten the trend toward suppression of all minority views.

This in itself is a commentary on the distorted concept of democracy and free elections that has been cultivated by the media and the politicians.

(Reprinted from the Weekly People, April 20, 1974)

Socialist Labor Party of America, P.O. Box 218, Mountain View, CA 94042-0218 • www.slp.org • socialists@slp.org

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