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National NOW Times >> Summer 2002 >> Article

Campaign Finance Reform Makes NOW's Political Action Committees More Important than Ever

by Linda Berg, Political Director

Reformers rejoiced last week when the U.S. House of Representatives begrudgingly passed campaign finance reform legislation. An examination of this flawed legislation reveals that—in the name of "reform"—the monied interests' power may have been strengthened.

In addition to campaign finance reform, NOW activists are also working for election reform to ensure that all votes are counted in future elections. Pictured at center are NOW Membership Vice President Terry O'Neill and her daughter Sara. The National Organization for Women has long supported true campaign reform, which we believe can only come from leveling the playing field with public financing. Rather than achieving equality of political voices, the McCain-Feingold bill, as it's popularly known, will probably magnify the influence of many of our political opponents.

Bill proponents tout that it eliminates the evil influence of soft money. However, a closer look at the key provisions reveals that the bill, at most, re-channels the flow of money. McCain-Feingold bars unions, corporations and individuals from unlimited and unregulated contributions to the national political parties. The reality is that these "party-building donations" will just be redirected to state and local parties.

And because McCain-Feingold doubles the "hard money" limit for candidates, the money that used to be given to the parties will end up being directly donated to candidates. This election reform bill, which purports to eliminate the corruption of large sums of money, allows a wealthy donor to give up to $95,000 in direct candidate contributions, plus an additional $10,000 to their state and local parties.

George W. Bush was able to avoid the voluntary spending limit of $40 million under public financing by simply foregoing public financing of his 2000 campaign. He was able to do this because he raised so much hard cash—more than $113 million.

If Bush does not solicit one new donor, his next campaign can still double the astronomical amount of cash he raised in 2000. Even more astounding is that Republican campaign operatives are predicting that with the power of incumbency Bush could raise $500 million in hard money contributions in 2004.

The provision of the act that has already been challenged in court bars unions, corporations and non-profit organizations from buying issue ads within 60 days of a general election or 30 days before a primary, if those ads refer to any federal candidate, even the incumbent president. Challenged by organizations on first amendment grounds, this provision contains an enormous loophole for wealthy individuals to spend unlimited funds to exercise their free speech rights.

So, if the whole system is rotten, why should we continue to support NOW's Political Action Committees (PACs)?

The answer is simple: Who else but NOW PACs will find and support true feminists for office? NOW PAC is the only women's rights PAC that solely endorses candidates who support the whole range of women's rights issues. Who else demands that candidates support reproductive rights without restrictions, economic equality for all women, and civil rights for all, with special emphasis on equal rights for people of color and of all sexual orientations?

What other organization is still demanding that its candidates support constitutional equality for women, affirmative action and an elimination of all violence against women? The truth is that NOW stands alone in seeking candidates for public office who support our rights without reservation.

In our newly reformed political world, where thousand dollar donors are being pressed into doubling their contributions, how much respect will the average woman's political gift garner? But put all those individual-sized contributions together into one check from NOW PAC, or combine them to provide the savvy of an experienced field organizer, and feminist clout is magnified many times over.

In a world where politicians are stumbling over each other to raise the "big bucks," we cannot afford to be silent. And more importantly the candidates who speak for us must be heard.

"We believe the system is still flawed, but we cannot opt out until it's fixed," said NOW President Kim Gandy. "We will never be able to elect the kind of candidates who will push for real change if we don't use the NOW PACs to their full potential."

If you want information about this summer's Political Institute, contact Linda Berg by email at political.director@now.org or call 202-628-8669, ext. 121.


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