The Soft Money Scam
The more than $3 million broadcasters gave to political parties over the past decade reflects the growing "soft money" scandal that has permitted wealthy special interests to spend millions of dollars to buy access and influence in Washington. Soft money contributions are huge, unregulated donations benefiting federal candidates that evade federal campaign finance laws. Current federal law prohibits corporations and labor unions from direct gifts to federal candidates. Individuals may give up to $1,000 to a candidate per election, and up to $20,000 annually to a political party. Political action committees (PACs) may give up to $5,000 per election per candidate and up to $15,000 annually to a party. The soft money scam lets deep-pocketed special interests flout all those restrictions. To evade the law, corporations, unions, individuals and PACs give soft money donations to the non-federal accounts of the national political parties. Because of rulings by the Federal Election Commission, such donations escape the prohibitions and limits in current federal rules.
The parties then launder this soft money and funnel it into political campaigns, particularly presidential campaigns. During the 1995-1996 election cycle, the Democratic and Republican parties raised more than $250 million in huge illegal soft money donations, nearly triple what was raised in 1992. In 1996, Democrats and Republicans shamelessly sought this soft money, offering access to the President and to key legislators in return for contributions of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Republicans recruited givers of $250,000 or more by offering them "season ticket" status, complete with access to Republican movers and shakers at parties and other special events. The Democrats aggressively offered access to President Bill Clinton. Soft money is behind the current allegations that the Lincoln Bedroom was for sale and that felons were feted at the White House.