In a typical election cycle, fundraising activity among members of Congress is fairly quiet following the presidential election. The first few months of the new term are generally a time of much-needed respite for the members after the grueling scramble to raise funds for the campaign trail. Yet despite the fact that the 2000 elections were more tiresome than most elections in years past, this post-election period has seen little slowing of fundraising activity. This year’s feverish fundraising activity is no doubt an attempt by members to brace themselves for what one member referred to as the “specter” of campaign finance reform. While the members’ overzealous fundraising is itself no crime, such attempts to circumvent impending campaign finance reform laws by raising extra money before limits are set reveal a troubling hypocrisy among members of Congress and a sad lack of commitment to the goal of making the political process fairer.
Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Russell Feingold (D-WI) are sponsoring legislation that would ban the currently unlimited soft money contributions. The legislation would also prohibit members of Congress from raising soft money for their individual political action committees. While there is uncertainty about whether campaign finance reform will be passed, the prospects for campaign finance reform became much more optimistic last week when the 60th senator joined the ranks of those supporting the legislation. Sixty votes are needed to prevent a filibuster on the Senate floor. In apprehension of the limits specified in the McCain-Feingold legislation, many senators have acted quickly to establish their own leadership PAC’s to begin raising soft money. Leadership PAC’s were once used exclusively by party leaders, but now even those who are clearly not part of the party leadership are helping themselves to the $5000 that a leadership PAC can raise. The fundraising committees of both major parties are holding galas and taking donors out for extravagant weekends, hitting up their most generous donors for money while they still can.
Possibly the most worrisome aspect of the legislators’ money grubbing is the fact that many of those seeking soft money will probably support legislation that would make their current activities illegal. The intent of campaign finance reform legislation is to make the political process fairer and less dominated by money and special interests. The fact that the legislators supporting this bill see no problem with rendering futile the future campaign finance limits that they will support with their votes displays an astonishing hypocrisy. If members of Congress have even a modicum of dedication to making the American election process fairer, they should all practice self-restraint, rather than turning to the nation’s wealthiest and most politically empowered to “protect” them from a fairer system.