The Post's editorial pages have recently devoted space to campaign finance, an issue that always engenders a lot of lengthy sighs and hand-wringing but little else. Currently there are nearly 20 bills in Congress addressing the issue of campaign financing, and most of them involve either taxpayer financing of campaigns or arbitrary limits on the amount a candidate can spend.
Public financing? About the only thing that could further lower the institution of Congress in the public eye would be to announce to U.S. taxpayers that their tax dollars will be footing the bill for politicians' bumper stickers and campaign buttons. And public financing suggests that private financing -- whether in $5 or $10 or $1,000 contributions (the federal limit) -- is unseemly. Furthermore, spending limits are woefully unmanageable. Why limit the right of citizens to support a chosen candidate? Should candidates running in the rural areas of Wyoming be given the same spending amounts as those running in the middle of downtown Los Angeles? Should a candidate running against a high-powered committee chairman be given a flat dollar amount to spend to unseat that official?
The real bugaboo of campaign finance that the reformers may or may not be trying to get at is how the money is raised. Let's face it: the present election system essentially encourages candidates to turn their backs on their constituents and depend on outside legislative leaders and lobbyists for funds.
I believe we need a system in which candidates rely on campaign support originating in the district the candidate seeks to represent -- i.e., local control of the financing of campaigns. I have introduced a bill that would do just that. Because the heart of H.R. 2580 is the requirement that a majority of all funds raised during a campaign come from individuals who reside in the congressional district from which the candidate is seeking election, a candidate would have to focus his efforts on the people in that district.
Another provision in the bill prohibits political officeholders from transferring money between one another. In fact, while stopping this practice on the federal level is important, its worst abuse is at the state level, where legislative kingmakers amass huge war chests and dispense funds in an effort to buy support from candidates running for office.
Furthermore, if it is accepted wisdom that campaign financing has reached critical mass in Congress, consider the situation in my home state of California, where the problem is absolutely out of control. There are no limits in the Golden State, just disclosures -- which results in multi-million-dollar campaigns for state house seats that represent one-half the population of a congressional seat.
Let's quit the legislative shadowboxing around campaign finance reform. There should be no artificial limits, no taxpayer subsidies -- my measure promises true campaign reform because it puts the power of elections back into the hands of constituents, which is where it belongs. WILLIAM M. THOMAS U.S. Representative (R-Calif.) Washington