While Congress considers imposing stricter regulations on campaign contributions, a new report reveals three quarters of House and Senate members failed to adequately report almost $22 million in campaign contributions to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) during the 1995-96 election cycle.
FEC rules require that the "best effort" be made to disclose the occupation and employer of individuals contributing over $200 per year to a candidate. The Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) found only nine senators and 13 congressmen in full compliance, while 14 senators and 39 congressmen failed to comply on over 20% of their major donations. Two of the senators, Bob Torricelli (D-NJ) and Sam Brownback (R-KS), serve on the Senate Government Affairs Committee that investigated irregularities during the 1996 campaign. In the House, 72.5% of Edolphus Towns' (D-NY) contributions had incomplete disclosures, and Rubin Hinojosa (D-TX) raised 28.7% of his major contributions from people who simply listed their occupation as "businessman" or "businesswoman." CRP Executive Director Kent Cooper noted the full compliance of 22 members shows compliance is not an unattainable goal, telling The Hill newspaper, "This is across party lines, across state lines and across ideological lines. All it takes is a commitment to fully identify your contributors to the voters."
On March 6, 1997, Congressman John Doolittle (R-CA) introduced "The Citizen Legislature and Political Freedom Act" (H.R. 965). While removing current limits on campaign contributions, it also waives the "best effort" exception. It requires immediate electronic filings with the FEC during the last 90 days of a campaign. These filings will be openly posted on the Internet within 24 hours. Congressman Doolittle said his goal is "to encourage political speech rather than limit it; to promote competition, freedom and a more informed electorate; to enable any American citizen to run for office; to increase the amount of time candidates spend with their constituents and debating issues rather than raising money; and to make candidates accountable to their constituents for the money they accept." The bill is currently under consideration by the Committee on House Oversight.
In 1992, Washington state voters approved Initiative 134 by a margin of almost 73%. It requires labor unions to get annual approval from each union member before diverting any portion of that member's mandatory dues for political purposes. Not only does Initiative 134 reveal the true feelings of rank-and-file working men and women toward organized labor's political activism, it also shows such protections can be successfully enacted and enforced.
After the passage of Initiative 134, member participation in the Washington Education Association's (WEA) political action committee (PAC) dropped from 45,000 to 8,000. In response, the union created a "Community Outreach Program" (COP) funded with mandatory member dues separate from the now voluntary WEA-PAC. WEA lobbyist Robert Maier later admitted COP is "an internal ploy to raise more [PAC] money." A group of suspicious members, aided by the Olympia-based Evergreen Freedom Foundation, investigated the WEA's political activity and submitted their findings to the state's Public Disclosure Commission (PDC).
On February 12, 1997, Washington Attorney General Christine Gregoire filed suit against the WEA. Her suit charges the union "failed to provide important campaign finance information that the public had a right to know." It says the WEA failed to correctly report loans and expenditures used for political purposes, diverted dues for political purposes and created COP to serve as a PAC. COP is said to have made $233,000 in campaign contributions to defeat school choice and charter school initiatives on the 1996 ballot. The case was referred to the attorney general after the PDC ruled the magnitude of the violations were too large for it to handle.
Detroit Poll Supports Political Choice
Detroit is a city commonly associated with strong union support. A Detroit News "CyberSurvey," however, found 90% of respondents answering "yes" to the question "Do you feel it should be made more difficult for unions to use members' dues for political purposes?" One posted comment read, "I am forced by law to belong to [a union] to keep my job, that should not be allowed to negate my right to freedom of political speech."
Landmark Legal Pursues Ethics Complaint for Fundraiser Held on Landmark
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), a vocal supporter of campaign finance reform, is facing charges of improper fundraising activity relating to a September event in which $5,000 donors were given special treatment when they visited Mount Rushmore. Safety concerns keep ordinary tourists from climbing to the top of the presidential carvings. Violators risk six months in jail and a $500 fine. Daschle donors, however, were escorted to the top of George Washington's head by the National Park Service superintendent. The Landmark Legal Foundation is asking the Senate Select Committee on Ethics to investigate a number of alleged ethics violations in connection with the tour. Landmark says the event offered "special access to both the senator and the site," and that federal employees and facilities were improperly used for fundraising purposes.
Political Money Monitor is published by The National Center for Public Policy Research to provide information on campaign finance and political choice issues. Coverage of an event or article in Political Money Monitor does not imply endorsement by The National Center for Public Policy Research. Copyright 1997 The National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints of articles in Political Money Monitor are permitted provided source is credited. ###
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