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Democrats Say Bush’s Reform is GOP Campaign Strategy

June 30, 1989

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Reformers say President Bush’s proposals for revising congressional campaign finances are inadequate. And Democrats say they amount to hardball party politics.

″He has chosen to submit proposals that blatantly favor the Republican Party and jeopardize bipartisan efforts already underway″ to draft a campaign reform bill, said House Speaker Thomas S. Foley, D-Wash.

Bush announced Thursday proposals he said would help curb the influence of special interests and reduce the advantage congressional incumbents have over challengers.

″We must do more to truly clean up the system,″ he said.

Bush said he supported cutting back on the free-postage privilege for lawmakers, which he said pays for ″mass mailings that amount to political advertising.″ He called for new laws to do away with gerrymandering, the drawing of oddly-shaped congressional districts to help certain candidates.

Political action committees connected with businesses, labor or trade groups should be banned, he said, and contribution ceilings to other PACs cut from $5,000 to $2,500.

But the president declined to endorse public financing of congressional campaigns, a favorite idea of many reformers, or overall campaign spending limits that have been urged by Democratic officials as well as private groups.

Fred Wertheimer, president of Common Cause, a good-government group that has lobbied for changes in campaign law, said Bush’s plan ″will not solve the basic campaign finance problems facing Congress today.″

To accomplish that, it would have to also include overall spending limits, public financing, and shutting down so-called ″soft money″ - prohibited corporate and union financing that enters campaigns through loopholes in current law. Bush said he would favor disclosure of soft money.

Bob Dreyfuss, spokesman for the advocacy group Public Citizen, said that in dismissing public financing and spending limits, Bush ″tends to really allow the people with money to have undue influence in politics.″

Bush said public financing would exclude individuals from the political process by denying them the opportunity to contribute, and spending limits would discourage them from contributing.

Bush’s proposals to reduce the advantages of incumbency would naturally hurt more Democrats than Republicans because there are more Democrats in Congress.

But Democrats said Bush’s plan was also carefully crafted to coddle the types of donations Republicans are more likely to get and shut down Democratic funding sources.

″A totally partisan package has been set forward,″ said Rep. Beryl Anthony, D-Ark., chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He called it ″a P.R. effort on the part of the president″ that ″appears to have been written by (Republican National Chairman) Lee Atwater and (GOP House campaign chief) Ed Rollins.″

Although Bush proposed to restrict political action committees, he would allow continuation of ″ideological″ PACs, many of which are one-issue groups which favor Republican causes.

He would also ban lawmakers from carrying campaign funds from one election to the next, a practice which helps senior Democratic incumbents scare off challengers.

Meanwhile, Bush would more than double the amount of money that political parties - where big contributors have given the GOP a fund-raising advantage - can give to their congressional candidates.

Rep. Al Swift, D-Wash., said that proposal would funnel more money from the wealthy to the candidates while avoiding disclosure of the source of the money.

″This really just sets up another ‘hide-and-go-seek’ game,″ but does nothing to solve the problem of soaring spending on political campaigns, said Swift, co-chairman of a bipartisan House task force on campaign reform due to present a report later this year.

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