Restoring Faith in Our Political System
Senator Fred Thompson (R-TN)
January 24, 2001
Lawmakers have a breach to repair with the folks who sent them to Washington to do their business. With each election, we see more disenchanted voters, fewer young voters, and greater cynicism than in the one before. There's one explanation for this disenchantment---there's too much unregulated money in politics.
If lawmakers are going to regain the trust of the American people, we are going to have to repair a broken system of financing our election campaigns. Our current system of money and politics serves no one well, and it furthers some Americans' belief that their votes and participation in our democracy don't count. That's certainly not what the Founding Fathers envisioned, and it's not a situation that we can ignore.
This week I joined a bipartisan coalition including Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Russell Feingold (D-WI), Thad Cochran (R-MS), and others to introduce the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2001.
I have long been a supporter of campaign finance reform and joined Senators McCain and Feingold when they first began the battle to rid our election system of the unregulated and unlimited contributions to political parties called "soft money" back in 1995. But this time around, the fight seems different. We've been joined by a number of others who believe, like we do, that it is time to get rid of these large, unregulated "soft money" contributions that leave so many Americans with the feeling that they don't have a say in their government's agenda. More Americans than ever seem to feel that this is a fight worth taking up, and they're asking their members of Congress to support campaign finance reform. It seems like the tide is turning.
In the last election, both national political parties saw unregulated contributions of up to $500,000. Our legislation will put a stop to the practice of raising these exorbitant, unlimited amounts of "soft money" by prohibiting all such contributions to the national political parties from corporations, labor unions, and wealthy individuals.
If you watched television at all in the months preceding the November presidential election, you probably noticed the ads funded by corporations and unions. These ads stuck to the letter of the law by avoiding the use of appeals to "vote for" or "vote against" a particular candidate, but they violated the spirit of the law by disguising their appeals as issue ads. McCain-Feingold-Cochran will address the spiraling proliferation of these ads by prohibiting labor unions and for-profit corporations from spending their treasury funds on "electioneering communications" within 30 days of a primary election and 60 days of a general election.
The bill will also strengthen existing law to ensure that foreign money stays out of the American political system. It will prohibit foreign nationals from making any contributions in a federal, state, or local election.
Finally, the legislation will bring greater transparency and strength to our election laws by improving the disclosure of campaign finance information and strengthening the enforcement of the law. It will provide for more timely disclosure of independent expenditures and clarify the circumstances under which activities by outside groups are considered to be coordinated with candidates. The legislation will bar federal candidates from converting campaign funds for personal use, and it will strengthen current law to make it expressly clear that it is unlawful to raise or solicit campaign contributions on federal property.
Individually, I plan to work on increasing the "hard money" limits. Not only have our "hard money" limits fallen behind in terms of the enormous expenses attendant to running a campaign, but the focus of campaigns has changed from "hard money" to "soft money" to independent ads in the last election. McCain-Feingold-Cochran addresses these areas, but we can do more. I plan to pursue an increase in the "hard money" limits because I believe it will help counter the increasing influence of independent groups. The current "hard money" limit, the maximum amount an individual can contribute to a candidate, was set at $1000 in 1974 and has never been increased to reflect inflation. Increasing the contribution limit will help candidates facing wealthy, self-financed candidates and will allow members of Congress to spend less time fundraising and more time legislating.
We just witnessed one of the closest elections in American history. It taught us that now, more than ever, every vote counts. So it's time to rid Washington of even the semblance of corruption by cleaning up the way we finance our campaigns. I believe that the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act is a good framework to do so, and I'll continue working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to make some significant progress on this issue.
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