Whoever said money is power may be a little less right than they were last week.

The House of Representatives has passed a campaign finance reform bill that could put the high water mark for money in politics behind us. If approved by the Senate and signed by President Bush, this legislation would mark a dramatic shift in accountability for politicians away from corporations, unions, and other big money interests and towards the people who they actually represent.

The ability to buy political power is inherently undemocratic much in the same way that voting qualifications such as landholding and literacy tests were in earlier eras. All are de facto circumventions of the one person-one vote rule that favor the well to do.

Funding campaigns is admittedly different than buying votes, but in the Information Age having the money to repeatedly slam your opponent in attack ads can have the same effect.

Any argument which purports that donations do not have an effect on policy is immediately refuted by the actions of the donors themselves. What corporation would decide to give away $2 million, as the Center for Responsive Politics reports Enron did in the 1999-2000 election cycle, if it did not expect a greater payoff in the form of favorable legislation? No shareholder in his or her right mind would tolerate such wanton waste.

For his generosity to Bush’s election campaign, Enron’s Ken Lay was allowed to recommend appointees to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, one of whom Bush installed as chairman. Similarly, energy industry executives who gave to Bush’s campaign probably made up most of Vice President Cheney’s energy task force.

Cheney is currently being sued by the investigative office of Congress for refusing to say who was on the committee. I am guessing that the Sierra Club is not on the list.

Like those who give, those on the receiving end also know how influential large donations are. House Speaker Dennis Hastert went so far as to call the Shays-Meehan reform bill “armageddon” for the GOP. Perhaps apocalyptic analogies go too far, but the determination that some House members put forth to defeat Shays-Meehan proves how truly betrothed they are to large donors.

Some have contended that donations come from so many different sources that they balance out. This is a ridiculous claim. Does anyone think that people swimming in credit card debt give as much money to politicians as the banks that helped them get there? Or perhaps that pacifists donate as much as defense contractors? I have a suspicion that the homeless aren’t too well represented in the coffers of Congressional campaign committees.

Campaign reform has the potential not only to reduce the influence of money on politics, but also to liberate politicians from their parallel roles as full-time fundraisers. Think about it ? no more Buddhist Temple scandals or White House sleepovers for major donors. Cheney would not have to come out of his secure location to schmooze with CEOs.

All of the major players are aware of what Senator John McCain called “the corrupting influence of big-money campaign contributions.” Some of them have the integrity to try to change the system. Prominent among these are the 41 House Republicans who broke the tight ranks of their party to support Shays-Meehan. Bush may soon have the opportunity to stand beside them and do the right thing.

The changes embodied in the bill are only a first step in addressing the vast disparity in political access and influence between wealthy interests and corporations and everyday working people. Nevertheless, they are a first step in the right direction. “We can begin to end the exclusive relationships of power and influence between a privileged few Americans and the guardians of the public trust,” wrote McCain.

By passing Shays-Meehan and signing it into law, our leaders can tip the balance a little bit towards government by the people, not the dollar.

Brach is a senior and can be reached at jbrach@campustimes.org.



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