Tuesday, April 12, 2005
Although the House of Representatives is required to file its campaign finance reports electronically, the United States Senate refuses to do so. As Brian DeBose writes in The Washington Times, this refusal meant that information on 85% of the $43.5 million in individual contributions to Senate candidates was not accessible as late as three days before the 2004 general election, according to a recent study by the Campaign Finance Institute.
Instead of restoring some fairness to the then $1,000 contribution limits to federal candidates, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 doubled limits, allowing a person to give a candidate $2,000 in the primary and $2,000 in the general election. With rich people even more able to dominate the process of elections, disclosure of contributions to candidates became even more important.
Unfortunately, the Senate fought hard to avoid the electronic filing requirements, which allow citizens to view who is giving to whom and how much they are giving in order to influence an election - valuable information. Instead, Senate candidates send their reports by mail to the FEC, which then has to manually input all the information into computers before it becomes available to voters.
Electronic filing is easier to do than paper filing. Electronic filing cuts down on the amount of data entry done by the Federal Elections Commission. And most importantly, it provides the American public with the best and most up-to-date information about who is trying to influence our elections process with big contributions.
The Senate can run, but it can't hide. It can pass a law tomorrow which gets them up to speed with modern times and which gets the American public up to speed on who's bankrolling the election efforts of Senate candidates. Of course, if they did pass a bill and used their current approach to campaign filings to spread the word about it, we wouldn't find out about it until July.
You've probably been reading the headlines about how many folks, including Republican congressman Chris Shays, are calling on Tom Delay to resign his leadership post due to his repeated ethical violations. But resignation is not the best way for democracies to deal with entrenched powerbrokers who abuse their office. Ideally, Texans would have the ability to recall Tom DeLay now that they have learned about how he behaves, but they can't do that in Texas. However, Republican members of Congress could hold a caucus and remove DeLay as the leader of their party. If you live in a district that is represented by a Republican, contact them today and ask them to request a party caucus with a secret vote to determine DeLay's future.
Say what you will about Tom DeLay. He is a man who gets things done.
When Texas Democrats gerrymandered the Lone Star State's legislative and congressional districts to give their party more representation than the numbers warranted, DeLay stepped in with the help of some of his corporate backers and gerrymandered things to give Republicans an unfair edge.
When Texas Dems fled the state to make any vote on the new districts impossible, DeLay twisted a few arms down at the Federal Aviation Administration to get them to track the Dems' flight into Oklahoma.
When Michigan Representative Nick Smith (a member of DeLay's own party) was balking at signing the Medicare prescription drug coverage, DeLay twisted the representative's arm by promising to withhold support for Rep. Smith's son in his upcoming election.
And when DeLay needed some extra campaign cash to spread around the country to candidates who agree with him ($978,000 to 111 congressional candidates in 40 states from 2003-4 according to the Center for Responsive Politics), DeLay held a fundraiser with an energy company the very week that a key committee hearing was held on energy legislation.
The problem is simple: Tom DeLay goes too far with the way he gets things done. He and his committee encouraged the use of illegal corporate money in Texas elections. After his staff figures out which deep pockets are affected by current legislation, Tom DeLay calls up the deepest pockets and makes his sale. When he wanted a bill passed, he promised support for a representative's son's future election efforts (an ethical no-no), then threatened to actively oppose the son when the Congressman wouldn't go along.
It is now up to the House Republicans to decide whether Tom DeLay should get away with it - whether this country should have an ethical majority leader.
If you think it should, find your representative here to let them know America deserves an ethical majority leader.