First, let's look at a little history on the subject. Since campaign finance reform can only be accomplished by politicians, it has had a long but limited record of success.
Short History of Campaign Finance Reform
In his 1907 State of the Union address, President Theodore Roosevelt, observed that no laws existed to "hamper an unscrupulous man of unlimited means from buying his own way into office." In the century that has passed since Roosevelt's lament, politicians have, with varying degrees of success, tried to change that.
Batted around by Congress since 1867, effective campaign finance law did not come about until 1971, with passage of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA). Under FECA, candidates were, for the first time, required to publicly disclose the sources and amounts of their campaign contributions and to account for how the funds were spent. Amendments to FECA, passed in 1974, placed the first legal limits on contributions and created the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to oversee the collection, reporting and spending of campaign contributions.
Most recently, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 revised some of the 1974 contribution and expenditure limits (including limits for private individuals), and prohibited so called "soft money" contributions to the political parties. "Soft money" being money spent by independent special interest organizations, like the NRA or the Sierra Club, that do not directly support the election or defeat of a specific candidate or slate of candidates.
What the Candidates Say... and Do Any candidate who publicly opposes campaign finance reform might as well oppose Mom and apple pie at the same time. So, both John McCain and Barack Obama, being astute and successful politicians, have expressed support for campaign finance laws that reduce the influence of money donated by special interest groups, lobbyists and large corporations. Their actions in the area of campaign finance, however, have differed.
Barak Obama on Campaign Finance Reform In a speech at the Roosevelt Middle School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Obama stated, "And as a candidate for President, I've tried to lead by example, and I've decided to run this race by turning down all contributions from federal lobbyists and the political action committees that the special interests use to pass out campaign money."
From Obama's official web site, we read -- before it was removed: "Obama supports public financing of campaigns combined with free television and radio time as a way to reduce the influence of moneyed special interests."
But in June, Obama decided not to participate in the federal public presidential campaign financing plan -- the fund created by taxpayers checking the optional $3 presidential campaign fund donation box on their tax returns. By rejecting public financing, Obama is free to legally raise and spend as much campaign money as he wishes. Had he accepted public financing, Obama would have received and been limited to spending no more than $84.1 million between the Democratic national convention and the election. It is probable that Obama will be able to raise at least $200 million in donations. John McCain has chosen to accept the $84.1 million in public funding. Both candidates are allowed to raise and spend as much money as they wish until they are actually nominated by their party.
Obama is certainly not the first presidential candidate to opt out of the federal public financing plan. George W. Bush and John Kerry both did so in 2004, and Sen. Hillary Clinton, during the primaries, indicated she would turn down public financing. Indeed, many political observers - and politicians, themselves -- believe the current federal system of public financing for presidential candidates has become obsolete and may be on its way out. Clearly, the option of raising and spending $200 million, compared to $84 million has a certain allure.
It should also be pointed out that while Obama opted out of public financing, all of his campaign contributions and spending must still comply with all federal campaign finance laws and FEC reporting requirements.
In 1998, while still in the Illinois legislature, cosponsored along with former U.S. Sen. Paul Simon (D-Illinois) a successful campaign finance reform bill prohibiting Illinois legislators from making personal use of campaign money and banning most contributions from lobbyists.
John McCain on Campaign Finance Reform
Since first being elected to the Senate in 1986, McCain has supported campaign finance reform legislation, highlighted by his co-sponsorship of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, along with Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.
On McCain's campaign Web site, the candidate asserts that Americans have become "alienated from the process of self-government by the overwhelming appearance of their elected leaders having sold-out to the big-moneyed special interests who help finance political campaigns."
"Americans believe that political representation is measured on a sliding scale. The more you give the more effectively you can petition your government," states McCain.
McCain also emphasizes his support for laws prohibiting contributions by large corporations and labor unions to political parties.
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