Statement by Solange Bitol-Hansen on Lobbying and Campaign Finance Reform
Washington, DC--Public Campaign, a non-partisan watchdog group that advocates for Clean Elections campaign finance reform, today released the following statement from Solange Bitol-Hansen, National Programs Director, Public Campaign.
“This past week, both congressional Democrats and Republicans have presented their reform packages. Their proposals are a modest beginning. While we agree that their ideas to restrict lobbyist funded travel strengthen ‘revolving door’ laws, and the Democratic proposal to strengthen ethics enforcement, are needed, this first round of proposals neglects the core problem of money in politics.
“The measures being circulated to date ignore the pay-to-play system through which money-laden lobbyists and their special interest clients deliver the contributions necessary to run a viable political campaign—the same cash that ultimately leads to special interest policy favors further down the road. The practice of pay to play policy favors for campaign money affects the daily lives of each and every one of us. From healthcare to taxation, from our heating bills and gas prices to the air we breathe, public policy decisions are not being made based on sound recommendations but by the wants of those who have filled Congressional campaign coffers.
“To put us on the path to meaningful reform, Congress should sharply restrict the flow of lobbyist donations and their bundling of clients’ political money to lawmakers. After all, if a free lunch is deemed inappropriate, then surely tens of thousands of dollars in bundled campaign contributions presents a much greater conflict.
“But Public Campaign believes cutting the lobbyist cash out of the picture isn’t enough. Sen. Rick Santorum is a good example of how lobbyists and their clients wield cash on Capitol Hill. Santorum, self-described as the “Liaison to the K Street Project” is Majority Leader Bill Frist’s choice to be his caucus’ point person for lobby reform. Santorum has received more in lobbyist money this political cycle than any of his colleagues. Since 2001, he has raised $182,470 from lobbyists. But that’s just slightly less than the 2 percent of the $11.5 million total in campaign cash during that same period. In contrast to his lobbyist totals, Santorum’s taken $1.3 million from finance, insurance and real estate companies—the very kind of high powered of interests that hire the elite lobbyists. This is the same for Congress as a whole. In the 2004 election cycle, lobbyists contributed $26.9 million to members of Congress—quite a sizable chunk of change. What’s even more telling is that that amount is dwarfed by the $1.5 billion contributed by other business interests.
“ There’s a way to combat this influence - Clean Elections—or publicly financed elections. Politicians who use the clean system are freed from their dependency on private political contributors. By receiving public funds, the candidates no longer have to engage in the quid pro quo of policy favors in exchange for campaign cash. The private money chase all but disappears for publicly financed candidates. The voice of voters is amplified while the political leverage wielded by lobbyists and the special interests they represent shrinks. The system has been in existence in Arizona and Maine since 2000 and is being put in place for at least some elected offices in five other states--Connecticut, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Vermont—and two municipalities--Albuquerque, New Mexico and Portland, Oregon.
“Such a solution will take time to enact at the federal level. But now is the moment for our leaders, from both parties, to stand up and take the lead in putting public financing on the table as the congressional reform policy debate unfolds in the weeks and months ahead. It’s time to have an open and honest debate about how best to fix our democracy and remove the bought and paid for power of crooked lobbyists like Abramoff and other special interest influence peddlers. As of right now, these powerful campaign cash brokers are put ahead of ordinary voters—and that needs to change.”
Public Campaign is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to sweeping reform that aims to dramatically reduce the role of big special interest money in American politics. For more information, go to www.publicampaign.org.