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E-mail From Washington

From: CNN
In: Washington
Posted 7-22-97

Subject: League of Women Voters Issues Campaign Reform Ideas

The League of Women Voters on Monday offered up five ideas it believes could diminish the influence of soft money and issue advocacy abuses and close independent expenditure loopholes which stained the 1996 elections.

The five proposals are:

1) End Soft Money

The soft money loophole allows corporations, labor unions and wealthy individuals to contribute unlimited amounts of money to political parties for "party building and grass roots volunteer activities." This money, which can be funneled back and forth between state and federal party committees, has ended up paying for broadcast ads in and out of election season and is hard to trace. Now there is evidence that some of this "soft money" came illegally from international sources.

The League's solution is to end the distinction between state party money and federal party money and create one pot of national party money. It would ban corporate and union funds and would allow money only from registered political action committees and individuals, with specific limitations.

Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution, who helped write this proposal, said he sees "a serious effort to prevent various conduits for what is banned corporate and union funds finding their way into the electoral process."

2) Close the Issue Advocacy Loophole

Taking a cue from a Supreme Court ruling, unions and corporations took advantage of a narrowly defined rule to run political ads disguised as issue advocacy ads. Many attacked specific candidates by encouraging listeners to "Call Congressman X and tell him to stop ... whatever." But, money for these ads is not regulated because they qualify technically as issue advocacy, not campaign advertising.

The League proposes that any paid ad using a federal candidate's name that airs within 90 days of a primary or general election be considered a campaign ad. Proponents believe this will reign in the issue advocacy loophole without stepping on free speech protections.

3) Free TV Time

Part of the reason for escalating campaign war chests is the need to pay for TV ad time. The League proposes to create a broadcast bank of TV and radio time. The Federal Election commission would dispense vouchers to purchase time for political spots. Half of the vouchers would go to House and Senate candidates who have raised a threshold amount in contributions from their district or state.

The other half would go to major and qualifiying minor parties which can distribute vouchers to candidates of choice for local, state or federal office. Every television and radio station in the country would have to contribute at least two hours of prime spot time at the beginning of each two year election cycle. After each election, the bank reimburses stations redeeming more than two hours of vouchers with proceeds collected from stations redeeming fewer than two hours.

Free TV time is not a new idea, and proponents of this idea know opposition would come from at least two places: "Almost any way you craft a free airtime system, you will tend to even up resources between incumbents and challengers and incumbents are smart enough to know that and smart enough to know ... what's in it for me? Not a great deal," said Paul Taylor of the Free TV for Straight Talk Coalition. "The broadcast industry has been always against it for obvious reasons having to do with their own bottom lines. They're not in the business of giving away airtime. They're in the business of selling it."

4) Provide a Tax Credit for Small Contributions From Individuals

Small individual contributions are shrinking rapidly as meaningful portions of political campaigns. The League proposes to create a 100 percent tax credit for in-state contributions to federal candidates of $100 or less. It would be paid for by assessing campaigns a 10 percent fee for large contributions of $500 or more.

5) Strengthen The FEC

The Federal Election Commission had a more difficult time enforcing campaign laws in 1996 than in previous years. The League says the FEC is erratically funded and often deadlocked because of its political makeup, and candidates are taking advantage.

So, the League proposes to: a) move annual appropriations for the FEC to at least two-year term funding, b) allow for private legal action when the FEC is unable to act, c) impose a requirement that until a campaign has provided all proper comntributor information to the FEC, it cannot spend the money, d) adopt single, staggered, eight-year terms for commissioners and e) make mandatory the current voluntary practice of electronic filing.

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