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Campaign Finance
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campaign finance
Part 1: Big Money
Part 2: The Issues
Part 3: Past Reforms
Part 4: Soft Money
Part 5: Allegations
Part 6: Legislation
Overview, Part 2:
The Issues - What's for Sale?

So how do you raise the big money if you're running for office? What do you sell? And who are the buyers?

Ideally, the only commodity in the political marketplace is ideas. The best ideas are what sell, the consumers are the voters, and they make their selections in the voting booth.

But the reality of modern politics is that access and attention, if not policy, are for sale. Alliances with the wealthy are easy to make and painful to break. Independence and virtue are hard to maintain.

From The Post
For DNC Donor, 'Resistance' Was Overcome, Sept. 9, 1997

Donors to Campaigns Fared Well in Budget, Aug. 22, 1997

Campaign Primer's First Lesson: Cash Flows From Contacts, May 18, 1997

How Business Found Benefits in Wage Bill, Feb. 11, 1997

Speaker and His Directors Make the Cash Flow Right, Nov. 27, 1995

Forging an Alliance for Deregulation, March 12, 1995

The question of just how much politicians sell their support has a certain chicken-and-egg quality to it. Over the years, Congress has given billions in tax breaks to industries and interest groups that contribute heavily to parties and campaigns. But does the money beget a vote? Or does a voting record beget the money?

"Members are only human," former representative and onetime Ways and Means Committee Chairman Sam Gibbons (D-Fla.) told The Washington Post. "You can't entirely disassociate yourself from something like a campaign contribution. How much it impacts on you and how far you're willing to move from your own principles is something each member has to decide for himself."

Major donors to the Democratic National Committee in 1996 were literally able to to buy time with the president – one of the most rare and valuable resources in Washington. Does that kind of access give donors an unfair ability to affect administration policies and regulations?

To whatever extent politicians give access or policy considerations to donors, the people and interests being catered to inevitably have one thing in common: Money.

That in and of itself is offensive to some campaign finance reform groups, who think moneyed interests hold too much sway in the political world, at the expense of the poor – and they argue for strict limits on campaign spending and fund-raising.

But in the view of many Republicans, the Supreme Court and many civil libertarians, preventing someone from spending money to express their views unconstitutionally limits the right to free speech.

Another question: Is the amount of money spent on campaigns really excessive? Some say no. The entire amount spent on elections in 1996 is slightly less than the $2.8 billion that Phillip Morris spent on advertising in 1995.


© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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