Campaign Finance: Abuses & Reforms
By Hedrick Smith Productions

"If there's anybody who doesn't believe the system is badly broken, they haven't been reading the newspapers or watched television over the last year."

Sen. John McCain R-Arizona



"The newspaper headlines can be distracting. They do tell us the details of what we always suspected was happening. But behind the headlines is a system which is corrupt to the core."

Ellen Miller, Executive Director, Public Campaign


Since The People & The Power Game first aired in September 1996, we have been tracking the issue of campaign finance reform. Hedrick Smith Productions has produced three separate programs for the PBS NewsHour that deal with Campaign Finance. We will add links to the full transcripts of each segment from The NewsHour site as they become available.

Segment 1 "The Niagara of Money" (Listen to the RealAudio Version)

Against the current atmosphere of the scandal and investigation, this segment shows how the campaign system has been overwhelmed by the volume of money, which is at a record level of more than $2 billion dollars. The program illustrates how the 1974 campaign finance law has broken down over the years, after having worked fairly well for the first three presidential elections after the law was passed. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) ruling which allowed "soft" money-that is uncontrolled money- to flow to the political parties for "party building" and for "issue advertising." The Clinton campaign exploited this loophole and used soft money to finance ads for reelection. The Republicans also used this loophole for the Dole campaign. Exploiting a Supreme Court ruling that equates campaign spending with free speech, independent organizations such as the AFL-CIO and the US Chamber of Commerce spent heavily on the battle for Congress in 1996.

Segment 2 "Big Sugar-Sweet Deal" (Listen to the RealAudio Version)

This segment looks at the use of political donations to Congressional campaigns to influence the outcome of legislative votes in the Congress. We focus on the sugar industry's lobbying to maintain sugar price supports through import restrictions. There was a huge battle in the last Congress, largely unnoticed by most people, although the price support costs most consumers roughly 8 cents per pound more for sugar than the current world market price, according to the General Accounting Office. In this battle, Big Sugar wanted to maintain the price supports, but Republican free-market reformers in the House wanted to get rid of the agricultural subsidies and price supports. One of the biggest political givers was the Flo-Sun Sugar Corp. owned by the Fanjul family. Flo Sun and its allies gained influence on the political process through campaign giving to both political parties, and in the end, Big Sugar won.

Segment 3 "Reform-As Maine Goes...?" (Listen to the RealAudio Version)

This final segment focuses on various efforts at reform in Washington and the states. The boldest action so far is the the referendum passed last fall in Maine for public financing of state elections. We go into that battle and the response by the politicians in Maine, peppered with the comments of Maine citizens. The segment then shifts to Washington to examine two reform options:

1) The McCain-Feingold proposal which calls for banning soft money to parties and offers free and discounted airtime on television to candidates if they will accept voluntary spending limits.

2) Bill Bradley's call for a Constitutional amendment to put firm limits on all campaign spending. We also quote foes of campaign spending such as Republican Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky who argues that according to Supreme Court decisions campaign spending is like free speech and cannot be regulated in American elections.

Additional Information

Campaign Finance/Lobbying

Center For Responsive Politics: The Center's Website offers a wealth of information on Campaign Finance. The Center is a non-partisan research group that specializes in the study of the role that money plays in federal elections and actions. Contact the Center for campaign finance profiles of members of Congress, industries, and interest groups and for information on which campaign contributors are "cashing in" at public expense and how. The Center also follows activities of the campaign finance regulatory system, holds seminars and workshops for issue activists and journalists, and offers trainings on how to undertake research. The array of Center publications on the problem of money in politics ranges from reference books to a free bimonthly newsletter.

FEC Info is not the official site of the Federal Election Commission, though it offers useful FEC data on the 1996 elections.

Check out FECInfo's list of all individuals who have made contributions of $200 or more:

FECInfo also has the scoop on who's on top, money-wise, in each congressional race:

If you don't recognize a name on a list of big givers, you may find more about that contributor on Mother Jones magazine's MoJo 400 site, which gives a detailed portrait of the top 400 political contributors.

And where there are big givers, there are big takers. Mother Jones picks the "dirtiest dozen" (in terms of campaign contributions) in the 104th Congress.

Get Involved: This is a link to a list of various groups that are working on Campaign Finance Reform


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