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Meaningful campaign finance reform

By Gregory J. Hand
web posted February 4, 2002

The word 'Enron,' now both a noun and a verb (as in to Enron someone or something; i.e. cheat them), has now become synonymous with a corrupt political climate in need of 'meaningful' campaign finance reform, not to mention a coordinated assault on private enterprise. This is no accident. The Democrats, who are scared senseless over Bush's continued high approval numbers, will do just about anything short of lying; well, maybe not that; to use Enron to attack the Bush administration.

Of course Enron's implosion, despite being the obsession of the leftist Washington press, has nothing to do with the Bush Administration, even if Ken Lay and George W. Bush were both from Texas and probably shook hands on more than one occasion. The scandal to Democrats and the press is that there is no scandal that they can uncover, despite often heroic attempts to do so. It seems that for all Enron's tossing money around like a Democrat looking to buy a new voting block, the only difference being that Democrats use other people's money, there has not been one revelation of their getting anything in return.

Speaking of bankruptcy scandals and influence peddling, the other recent 'scandal' of sorts is that of Global Crossing Ltd., which recently filed a bankruptcy of its own (the fourth largest in history), this after placing 29th among the biggest political donors of 2001 with $724,000 in contributions. In fact, during the 1999-2000 election cycle Global Crossing donated more than $2.8 million in soft money, political action committee money and individual contributions, 84 times what it gave during the 1997-98 election cycle. Said Holly Bailey, a researcher for the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington advocacy group, "They just came out of nowhere and... began flashing a lot of money all over town."

Follow the money, right Senator McCain?
Follow the money, right Senator McCain?

According to the Center, in an irony fitting Washington politics, it seems that Global Crossing's largest benefactor was none other than Arizona Republican Senator John McCain, who received $31,000 in 1999. Why is this important? The push for 'meaningful' campaign finance reform, an oxymoron of there ever was one, is being spearheaded by the very same John 'The Maverick' McCain. He was, to refresh the reader, caught in an embarrassing campaign scandal of his own some years back as a member of the Keating Five. As a result he has subsequently become a leading convert for a need to reform the system, much like the Clintons were after they were caught accepting massive amounts of illegal campaign contributions. It never ceases to amaze how the guilty find salvation after getting caught.

McCain was not the only politician to receive benefits from Global Crossing, although among the two most interesting contributions were these: Former President George Bush made a speech on behalf of Global Crossing in 1998, and accepted an estimated 230,000 shares instead of an $80,000 speaking fee. At the company's stock high, the shares were worth approximately $14 million, something that the Washington press is having a field day reporting. What has yet to be determined, much less investigated or reported is whether Bush actually cashed out at that level, or is still holding now worthless stock.

What is not getting much press coverage is that the Democratic National Committee chairman, the boorish Terry McAuliffe, used his connections to become an early investor in the company, netting a windfall of just under $18 million when he sold most of his shares in 1999. McAuliffe, interestingly enough, among many dim-witted statements of questionable truth, had the nerve to say this about the Enron mess: "The people out there who are hurt the most are the small people, and once again the wealthy special interests got to take their money off the table, and that's what we need to investigate." It redefines hypocrisy.

Global Crossing also had ties to the Clinton Administration, unlike the alleged Enron-Bush connection that has yet to be unearthed. McAuliffe, after cashing out his multimillion dollar payout, arranged for Global Crossing Chairman Gary Winnick to play golf with President Clinton. Winnick subsequently gave the Clinton library $1 million. Also involving the Clintons, according to a Drudge Report exclusive, "Last summer the Bush Administration canceled a Defense Department contract valued up to $400 million with the soon-to-be bankrupt GLOBAL CROSSING after questions were raised about the bidding process -- a process top-level GOP insiders now suggest was sweetened by players from the previous [Clinton] administration!" Marc Rich got a pardon for his ex-wife Denise's contributions. Why should Global Crossing not get a Defense Department contract?

To dwell on either Enron or Global Crossing is to miss the point. The stupidity of the situation lies not in the appearance of impropriety, which seems omnipresent. It is that politicians who complain about the corruption of the system via these contributions are, in many cases, the ones who profit the most. McCain, as sited above, enriched his campaign war chest with Global Crossing money while sanctimoniously complaining about the 'special interests.'

Democrats are no better, even if they complain the loudest. According to a Fox News story, "According to Federal Elections Commission filing reports, five Democratic committee chairmen, several with presidential ambitions, managed to take in a combined sum of more than $13.5 million last year." Among the biggest winners was Max Baucus of Montana, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, who raised more than $2.8 million last year, half a million of which came in June, the month after Democrats took control of the Senate after Jim Jeffords claimed to have rediscovered his conscience. Furthermore, Baucus added another roughly $1.4 million from July through December. It certainly pays to be in control of a powerful Senate committee.

What very few people understand, at least in Washington, is that it is the politicians' very behavior which drives the current system. The fact that those in Washington feel the need to regulate as much of peoples' lives as they can get away with creates a structure in which businesses and other 'special interests' are practically forced to contribute heavily to have a say in what Congress is planning. Who could blame them? In an environment where government dictates to the level it does, what sane person would not want to have input into how these decision are made? Who would be dumb enough to willingly surrender to this Congress besides the 'give me more entitlements' crowd?

The only way to end the current system of the 'appearance' of buying influence is to end the need for these donations in the first place. In other words, end the massive regulatory system put in place over the last half century and give back to the people the freedom that they deserve. If Congress were better able to control its need to micromanage the citizens it rules, there would be no influence to buy, hence the end to campaign contributions designed to buy access. Suffocate the demand by ending the supply.

That, unfortunately, will never happen. Our Congress is an imperial one, whose only concerns are staying in office and the augmentation of their power, which only happens by taking control away from the people who, at least in theory, are the ones who grant it in the first place. Power, unlike wealth, is a zero sum game, and regrettably is one in which Congress intends on winning.

Gregory J. Hand is a political and social commentator whose weekly columns disclose his personal passion for conservative issues. His columns appear regularly at NewsCorridor, OpinioNet, and Ether Zone, and he is also a contributing writer with Enter Stage Right. He has a B.A. in Economics from Wofford College. You can view the complete catalog of all of his works on GregoryHand.com, and can reach him at ghand@gregoryhand.com.

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