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Campaign Finance Reform - A Black Choice

As we have written before, in the Black community, the real campaign finance reform issue hasn't even been raised yet. That issue being the lack of financial support that Blacks give to their elected officials, whom they rely upon and expect so much from. Having established this opinion, we do see the ongoing discussion over campaign finance reform as an opportunity for the Black electorate to consider how the outcome of the current Senate debate over the issue and the legislation that may be produced from it, will affect the potency of the Black vote. We are among those who think a paradigm shift in the relationship between Blacks and the two-party system could be furthered by the right type of campaign finance reform.

Operating out of the premise that the political fortunes of Black America may potentially increase in direct proportion to a weakening of the Democratic and Republican Party, we in fact support an aspect of the McCain-Feingold finance bill. Here is our vision of campaign finance reform

Soft Money. We agree with the McCain-Feingold ban on unrestricted soft money, specifically because it would weaken both parties financially. We don't see how the voice of politically interested Blacks can be anything but amplified by the elimination of the $500 million received by the national parties. The influence of soft-money gives an enormous voice to a tiny few that are able to gain access to the political process by pouring money into the coffers of the Republican and Democratic Parties. Much of the half a billion dollars received by the partisan duopoly came from 140 wealthy individuals, labor unions, and corporations who gave more than $ 1 million each. We are confident that these wealthy individuals, unions and corporations had other things on their mind than lifting the profile of a Black agenda.

Hard Money. But we disagree with McCain-Feingold on hard money. We believe that federal limits on contributions to presidential and congressional candidates should be raised from $1,000 per candidate per election, with a $25,000 cap on an individual's total contributions to all federal candidates, political parties and political action committees (PACs); upward to $3,000 per candidate, with a $75,000 cap on an individual's total contributions to all federal candidates, political parties and political action committees. We support this for two reasons. First, the rate of inflation alone justifies the increase and second, we see nothing wrong with increasing the power of individual contributors as the power of collective contributors like corporations and unions are weakened. We have no fears that a $75,000 contribution limit will return us to the days of the enormous direct political influence we witnessed last century generated, in part, by the truckload of campaign contributions made by a few like the DuPonts and the Rockefellers.

Pay Check and Shareholder Protection. We think that President Bush has it right when he asks that any campaign finance bill have a provision that bans involuntary political contributions made by union members and company shareholders when corporations and unions make contributions from corporate and union treasuries. We have no problem with Bush's proposed solution to this corporate and union indulgence, which is to implement a form of "paycheck protection" provision that would allow corporate shareholders and union members to have the power to veto the use of their money for political purposes until their expressed written consent is obtained. Again, we are not worried about this as we see establishment labor and the corporate establishment as really not that much different where the subject of the Black electorate is concerned - neither group is especially attentive to issues of great importance to the Black community, although many have a penchant for linking the concerns of the organized labor establishment and the Black community. By slowing the roll of corporate and union treasurers who increasingly see themselves as working for the Democrat and Republican Party establishment as much as for corporations and unions, we see a plethora of opportunity for the grip of the two parties on American politics to weaken a bit. Accountability does have that effect on shady dealings.

Special Interest Ads. We disagree with McCain-Feingold on special interest group ads. McCain-Feingold wants to bar independent groups from using corporate and union funds to broadcast issue ads in the last 60 days of an election. Being that we think issues are more important than parties, we have no problem with these types of ads, as they currently are, except for one. We think that the identity of all donors who contribute to these ads should be known. We had a serious problem with the NAACP receiving $7 million from 1 anonymous donor. We think that it is in the public's interest and especially the Black electorate's interest to know who is behind such funding. And we have no problem with corporations and unions giving money to independent special interest groups in order to create and broadcast issue ads. We think that these ads can be informative, raise issues that have been left to the wayside, and put pressure on incumbents. Issue advocacy groups quite often can be a lot closer to matters of interest to the Black electorate than either major party. We support their right and ability to raise funds from a variety of sources as long as there is full disclosure.

Black Dollars for the Congressional Black Caucus. The real issue in campaign finance is when will the Black electorate support its own candidates with its financial resources? A look at the major donors to the members of the Congressional Black Caucus reveals why the Black Caucus is not as responsive to the needs of the Black community as one may expect. Corporations, Unions and wealthy individuals are the largest financial supporters of Black elected officials. Changing that should not be a major problem. All that would be required is a little bit of energy from Black opinion leaders who, while making the pitch for Get Out The Vote (GOTV) efforts, call for fundraising for Black elected officials - most notably the members of the Congressional Black Caucus. And no amount would be too small. If Blacks gave what they could spare to members of the CBC, we are confident that a real Black agenda could be presented and supported right in the halls of the US Congress.

If the above steps could be combined with a push in the Black community for Same Day Voter Registration (SDVR), the power of the Black vote would never again be taken for granted or ignored by the two-party system; the independent political movement would be strengthened; and Black elected officials would become more responsive and more accountable.

Cedric Muhammad

Monday, March 26, 2001

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The views and opinions expressed herein by the author do not necessarily represent the opinions or position of or Black Electorate Communications.

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