The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson told the Commission on National Elections yesterday that enforcement of civil rights laws to give blacks and other minorities full and fair participation in the political process is more important than rule changes aimed at making presidential campaigns shorter and less costly.
Jackson, a candidate for the 1984 Democratic presidential nomination, also charged that the news media did not take his candidacy seriously, a fact that he said discouraged his supporters.
"They hear over and over, you know, 'He can't win,' " he told the privately financed, bipartisan commission, which is examining complaints that campaigns are too expensive, too long and discourage voting. "They get enough of that and they say, 'Well, why should I vote? My vote does not count.' "
Jackson said he "had the energy for the long campaign. I didn't have the power for fairness. I lost 400 delegates to the rules."
He said that despite the civil rights laws of the 1960s, blacks were discouraged from voting and in some cases, particularly in the South and the Southwest, disfranchised by jurisdictions that gerrymander districts to dilute the minority vote, hold at-large elections in predominantly white districts and change polling places used by blacks.
He also scored runoff primaries that generally result in the election of whites in the South and the Democratic Party's "threshold" requirement that presidential candidates get at least 20 percent of primary or caucus votes to qualify for delegates.
Jackson was one of seven people appearing before the commission at its final public session. Cochairmen Robert S. Strauss and Melvin R. Laird said they would hold at least two private sessions to draft changes in presidential campaign- financing and nominating rules to present to Congress and the major political parties this year.
The other witnesses included Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.); Joan Growe, Minnesota secretary of state; Robert Beckel, Walter F. Mondale's presidential campaign manager, and Herbert Alexander, an authority on campaign finance.
Goldwater, the 1964 Republican presidential nominee, charged that the skyrocketing cost of political campaigns -- $1.8 billion for local, state and national elections last year -- and the proliferation of political action committees (PACs) are corrupting the system and are "the road to anarchy."
"We must prove that the Oval Office is not a prize to be auctioned off to the highest bidder," he said. "Our task is to restore control over elections to candidates and the people, and to take power away from the political merchants who are enriching themselves with booty collected from special interests and wealthy donors seeking to control the country's political agenda."
Goldwater has introduced legislation that would limit spending by a presidential candidate to $15 million in the primaries and $25 million in the general election.