Campaign-reform advocates focus on state referenda

Monday, November 6, 2000

With Congress bogged down in appropriation bills in the waning days of
the session, the McCain-Feingold bill — the leading federal effort to
change the way Americans finance elections — languishes in the

Despite this, reform supporters are undaunted. Instead, they are
focused on the state level, where, they say, the real action is.

There was the successful passage of two clean-election acts in Vermont
and Maine several years ago and the passage of public-financing referenda in
Arizona and Massachusetts during the 1998 General Election. And, of course,
there was the U.S. Supreme
Court’s decision in Nixon v. Shrink Missouri
Government PAC
earlier this year, which upheld
campaign-contribution limits in Missouri.

And now, voters in three states tomorrow will consider ballot measures
that reformers say will strike a blow to soft money and clean up elections.

“The elections in 2000 will go down in history as the most
money-soaked, money-influenced elections in our nation’s history,” said Thomas
F. Eagleton, a former U.S. senator from Missouri. “Tragically, it will be even
more obscene and degrading in 2004 unless we do something and do it soon to
eliminate the buying and selling of our candidates for public office.”

Eagleton highlights Proposition B, a proposal before Missouri voters
to offer public financing to qualifying state candidates. Also tomorrow, Oregon
voters will decide on Measure 6, a similar public-financing referendum, and
California voters will consider Proposition 34, a measure reformers criticize
as a faux reform effort designed to bolster soft money.

The California measure, in particular, has drawn national attention.
Arizona Sen. John McCain, co-sponsor of the leading federal effort to curb soft
money, recently joined actor Warren Beatty in a television advertisement
denouncing Proposition 34.

Proposition 34 surfaced during the California General Assembly as an
effort to restore portions of Proposition 208, a ballot measure voters passed
in 1996 to place contribution limits on state and local candidates. The courts
struck down Proposition 208 saying the limits failed to satisfy the U.S.
Supreme Court’s 1976 decision in Buckley v.

But reformers say Proposition 34 actually removes many key limitations
included in Proposition 208.

“Proposition 34 is ‘phony reform,’ ” said Derek Cressman of the
California Public Interest Research Group. “Its limits are so high and
loopholes so big as to be worse than nothing at all.”

But many groups, ranging from Common Cause to Public Campaign, say the
best effort to restore confidence in elections is to provide candidates with
public money if they forgo certain private contributions and restrict their
spending. Four states — Vermont, Maine, Arizona and Massachusetts —
have already adopted such programs. Two more states may join them after

In Missouri, Proposition B, also known as the Fair Money Initiative,
would establish a base amount of $15,000 in public funding for qualifying
congressional candidates and $1 million for qualifying gubernatorial
candidates. Candidates facing attack by a single-issue group would get up to
three times their base amount. Candidates also would be required to obtain a
certain number of individual $5 contributions.

At the same time, Proposition B would limit soft-money contributions
to political parties to no more than $5,000.

In Oregon, Measure 6 would provide public money to those state
candidates who didn’t accept private contributions but obtained a base number
of $5 contributions. The measure would provide $50,000 to House candidates and
$1.2 million to gubernatorial candidates.

But some say public-funded campaigns are unconstitutional because the
Supreme Court’s decision in Buckley
effectively precludes significant campaign-finance reform by equating money
with free speech. Such voluntary limits, they say, pose problems because they
effectively limit the total amount of political speech.

John DiLorenzo, an Oregon lawyer who successfully fought Oregon’s last
campaign-finance limits in court, said such systems unconstitutionally force
the public to accept all political messages.

“It basically says no matter what your philosophy is, the state of
Oregon will support the broadcasting of your message,” DiLorenzo said. “Does
the public really want to help finance messages that they may individually find

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