Through the rain of campaign pamphlets, flyers, commercials, and endless televised debates, do you ever stop to wonder where our presidential candidates got the money to finance their propaganda? In most cases, special interest groups donate the money to the presidential candidate they think is going to win the election. Propaganda is a necessary element of running for office however, the "donated" money leaves the president in debt to the special interests groups. These groups later approach the president for favors that will not always benefit general public, but instead put themselves in advance. Campaign contributions make it more difficult for the president to run his presidency with the best interests of the people in mind.
In last year's election, $528,900,000 was contributed to the presidential candidates (Presidential Profile, George W. Bush, 2001). A diplomatic president can hardly forget the generous contributions that brought him to Washington if he wishes to receive contributions when he or another candidate from his party runs for president next term.
The wish for future funding and the sense of gratitude invoke a policy change from a previous presidency, the introduction of a bill to Congress, a nomination as ambassador to a friendly country, or any other proposition the contributor deems worthy (The First 100 Day's, April 26, 2001). In the past, many controversial "favors" were performed by the presidents to major contributors, however, I would like to concentrate on the favors our current president Bush has performed so far.
In 1992 the people of Texas passed a bill that helped reduce impact of upstream development on Austin's Barton Creek and historic Barton Springs. The developers were very happy with this new bill: "leading developers Gary Bradley and James 'Jim Bob' Moffett wanted to build their thousands of acres of development over the sensitive watershed without following the local water quality regulations". In 1995, during former Texas Governor Bush's first term, he wrote a bill that allowed specific developers to "overturn local environment regulations". Bush's "Letting Texas Run Texas" theme definitely came in second to the industry interests. Interestingly enough generous contributions ($33,000) were made to Bush from the major developing companies that profited from this bill (Public employees for environmental responsibility, 1995-96).
Bush is in the process of establishing a new energy policy. However, there currently is a huge controversy and legal investigation centering around this issue which involves Vice-president Dick Cheney. The Vice-president is being forced to reveal the Enron officials on the board that helped come up with the new policy. Bush's number one contributor was Houston based Enron with $2.3 million in contributions. Enron, once a multi-billion dollar corporation, is undergoing an extensive investigation into the disappearance of funds and it's sudden bankruptcy. Bush has many contributors to repay in the energy industry, which include: Oil &Gas contributed more than $1.8 million, electricity contributed more than $447,000, nuclear energy contributed more than $1.8 million. It's will be interesting to see how the president appeases all of his contributors. We'll see who the policy favors when this controversy is over (Energy Money, April 6, 2001).
In 1999 the Clinton administration filed a law suit against the tobacco industry for misrepresenting the harmful effects of smoking and for a 45 year pattern of unlawful business dealings. Republicans in office at the time tried to kill the lawsuit by reducing the funds the Justice Department claimed would be necessary to successfully pursue the case. Clinton vetoed bills that included proposals for money cuts to the tobacco lawsuit fund. In contrast Bush was the top single recipient of tobacco contributions, which totaled more than $90,000 in 1999-2000. During last years Republican National Convention in Philadelphia last January, President Bush was the guest of honor at many parties given by the tobacco industry. Bush also received $100,000 from tobacco companies into the Bush-Cheney Inaugural Fund. Bush's purposed budget doesn't include enough funding to keep the tobacco lawsuit alive. The hiring freeze that resulted from the funding cuts hampered the departments ability to keep up with the lawsuit (Presidential Profile: George W, Bush, April 6, 2001).
On March 12, 2001 Attorney General John D. Ashcroft received a memo from Justice Department's Tobacco Litigation Team stating that without sufficient funding, "we cannot maintain action" and "there are no realistic prospects for a settlement" regarding this case. Bush expressed skepticism about the legal action of the tobacco case telling reporters he hoped the era of big government wouldn't be replaced by the era of big lawsuits (Dan Eggen, April 25, 2001) The Washington Post stated, "advocates on both sides of the issue have long assumed that a Bush White House would seek a way to drop the lawsuit." Bush has not yet commented publicly on the lawsuit since taking office" (Dan Eggen, April 25, 2001) On the other hand, politicians need the means to publicize their views. TV time, city tours, debate, staffing, and pamphlets on the candidate all take money. Political campaigns are very expensive to put together. Ross Perot can attest to the importance of sufficient funds after being left out of the presidential debates because of his limited public funding. The Debates Commission felt this diminished any reasonable hope of him winning the election (The Washington Post, September 18, 1996). If the candidates can't express their opinions to the public, how can the people know who to vote for? We live in a free society and we ought to be free to associate the way we wish, speak the way we wish and spend money the way we wish, provided that in the process we respect the rights of others to do the same (Roger Pilon, July 22, 1999). The Declaration of Independence states that we have unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The government is going to do its best to protect the liberty of the people and campaign contributions are seen as a liberty (Roger Pilon, July 22, 1999).
Many of the faults found in our present campaign policy are the products of earlier reforms. Congress feels that it's preventing corruption by limiting contributions. Corporations get around that rule by using individuals to "raise" more money for their candidates. Congress wants to limit corruption without stepping on anyone's toes by leaving loopholes that make a mockery of their reforms. Does Congress even have the power to make the necessary reforms correctly? There's no question that we have a problem with campaign contributions. In polls taken of the American public, 80% felt that politicians often do special favors for the people and groups that give them campaign contributions. In the same poll 67% of those people felt that it was a big problem, 74% felt that the special favors tend to be unethical, and 46% felt that the special favors tended to be illegal (Corruption Perception Index, June 29, 2001). If we go by these polls, then the majority of the public feels that campaign contributions are a big problem. There would also need to be a change in the funding of politicians campaigns and how they are managed. If the president didn't rely on special interest money he would be able to focus on the good of the general public instead of the good of the general contributor.
Campaign Contributions A controversial essay by: Lindsey Leeflang First Period Sources A Money in Politics Backgrounder on the Energy Industry(May 16, 2001) Jan 24, 2002, http://opensecrets.org Corruption Perception Index (June 29, 2001) Jan 24, 2002, http://ouch.html Eggen, Dan (April 25, 2001) Presidential Budget May End U.S. Tobacco Suit, Jan 24, 2002, http://washingtonpost.com Pilon, Roger (July 22, 1999) Constitutional Issues Related to Campaign Finance Reform, Jan 24, 2002, http://www.cato.org/testimony/ct-rp072299.html Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (1995-96) Jan 24,2002, http://txpeer.org/Bush/Local_Control2.html Presidential Profile: George W. Bush (April 26, 2001) Jan 24, 2002, http://opensecrets.org