Let's Go To The Videotape (TIME, 10/13/97)
Campaign-Finance Fight Cools Friendships (CQ, 9/29/97)
Gavel To Gavel: AllPolitics' Campaign Fund-Raising Special Report
Money In Politics Through The Years
By Bruce Morton/CNN
WASHINGTON (Oct. 7) -- Most people who take the oath to become citizens of the United States have probably been told they gained something special: the right to vote. Lebanese oilman Roger Tamraz, who took the oath in 1989 and gave $300,000 to the Clinton campaign, doesn't think so.
"Have you since then registered to vote?" Sen. Joseph Lieberman asked Tamraz during the Senate's fund-raising hearings in September.
"I have not registered," Tamraz answered.
"So that your participation in the political process has been limited to contributing to campaigns?" Lieberman asked."Well, I think this is a bit more than a vote," Tamraz replied.
"That's the problem," Lieberman responded.
That is the problem, and the voters know it.
"When you hear the word 'politics,' what's the first thing that comes to your mind?" CNN asked several people.
"I hate to tell you," responded a Miami woman.
"Corruption," said a man.
"Crooked," said another woman.
Said a Dallas man, "The campaign funding and the money makes much more difference than the individual voters."
The voters are turned off and the politicians know it. Terry McBreyer of the Democratic National Committee says that has hurt outreach efforts.
"They don't think they count, we can't get them to participate, and it's very difficult because they just think they are so insignificant that they don't make a difference," McBreyer said.
That's the mood after the 1996 election, but it's not a new problem.
"Whenever there is democratic politics, money has to be spent, and the question always arises as to where it comes from, as well as how it's going to be spent," said Herbert Alexander of the University of Southern California.
Alexander notes that America's first president, George Washington, wouldn't lie about a cherry tree, of course, but "when he was running for the House of Burgesses in Virginia, spending money on rum and beer and ale and other niceties for those voters who were gathered in that pub."
Handing out goodies
Andrew Jackson invented the spoils system, handing out goodies to those who helped you win.
"Especially since the Civil War, you can't find a presidential race where questions about money and politics and the role of the wealthy in our politics hasn't been an issue," said Colby College professor Anthony Corrado.
Mark Hanna, a senator from Ohio, said, "There are two things that are important in politics. The first is money and I can't remember what the second one is."
Theodore Roosevelt's 1904 election saw so many stories about heavy corporate spending he called for reform.
Said Corrado, "Roosevelt even called for public financing as a way of maybe cleaning up the influence of these large business interests on American politics."
In 1907, Congress banned corporate contributions and in the 1930s, union contributions. In the cities, political machines grew. Thomas Nast attacked New York's Tammany Hall, but many cities had machines, precinct captains and street money.
"They were given money for their ward or precinct, and they were told to get out the vote and make sure the vote was right, and if using this money was necessary, 'Don't tell us but do the right thing,'" said Frank Sorauf of the University of Minnesota.
The country moved west and got bigger. Technology changed. Candidates began campaigning by train, by plane, by telephone, and with radio and TV ads. It was more and more expensive.
Noted Corrado, "We keep spending more; the money had to come from somewhere, and so it was increasingly an issue of where was that money coming from, and what were people getting in exchange for it."
It helps to be rich. Joseph Kennedy bankrolled his son, John, in the West Virginia primary -- you could actually buy votes there back then -- but warned he wouldn't pay for a landslide.
Having rich friends helps
It may not be an accident that three of the men on Mount Rushmore were rich. And if you weren't rich, you needed rich friends. Richard Nixon had those.
Said Sorauf, "Richard Nixon in '68 raised sums of over $2 million from certain individuals. That, by any standard, qualifies as a fat cat."
We like to think our leaders don't have to do all that, and we admire the ones we see as honest, like Franklin Roosevelt or Dwight Eisenhower. We hope they'll stand up to the bosses the way Spencer Tracy, as presidential candidate Grant Matthews, did in the movie "State of the Union."
"Ladies and gentlemen, I'm Grant Matthews," he said. "I'm sorry to interrupt, but I can't take any more of this. Don't you shut me off, I'm paying for this broadcast."
We root for goodness, but our reforms have mostly failed.
Notes Brookings Institution scholar Thomas Mann, "We've never done it well, we've never had good enforcement mechanisms, and resourceful politicians protected by the free-speech guarantees of our constitution ensure we'll be wrestling with the issue for many decades to come."
In 1996, we wrestled with the issue, and lost.
"I have the most reliable friend that you can have in American politics, and that is ready money," bragged GOP candidate Phil Gramm.
Gramm always said the Republican with the most money at the start of 1996 would win the nomination, and he was right. Bob Dole had the most and won, but it wasn't easy. Remember Steve Forbes?
Gramm, Dole and the others stayed within spending limits so as to get federal matching funds. Multi-millionaire Forbes didn't have to. The spending limit in New Hampshire was $600,000. Forbes spending? Between $3 million and $3.5 million. Dole won, but then he met the real king of money mountain, William Jefferson Clinton.
Clinton biographer David Maraniss notes, "Money, really, does not mean much to Clinton except when power and his political career are at stake, and then it means almost everything."
Clinton raised money furiously when he sought re-election after losing the governorship in Arkansas. He won.
"And in 1994 when he was defeated, when the Republicans took over Congress, he instituted the same procedures, even with the same people, as, essentially Dick Morris who helped him both times developing that technique," added Maraniss.
Dole spent money in hard-fought primaries. Clinton faced no primaries, and later buried Dole under an avalanche of ads in the general election.
And so he won, and campaign finance laws crumbled all around him. In all, counting federal funds and private funds, hard money and soft, issue ads, party ads, Clinton outspent Dole by roughly $40 million.
"I don't want to vote because there is really no point in that," a Miami man told CNN.
He seems to have a point.
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