Campaign-Finance Reform vs. Big Bucks: How They'll Play in 2000

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In politics, money doesn't just talk it gives speeches. It speaks loud, from a lush rented banquet hall, or wide, from the face in a slick campaign ad on national television. It is a megaphone for ideas, and also a corruptor of democracy, because when money it is given in large enough quantities and yes, Messrs. Forbes and Perot and Huffington, it must be given to be truly effective it wins elections. It buys votes, because it is votes. It signals support, so it attracts support, and thus it is self-fulfilling. And because no candidate can win without it, nearly every candidate promises nearly anything to get more of it than his opponent. And though it has long paved the road to Washington, this contest of war chests seems to get more urgent, more important, every year. To those who are convinced that elected American integrity is in a steady decline, this is no coincidence.

The Score So Far

The 2000 presidential primaries will likely be remembered as having been prepaid, secured far in advance with large deposit checks. Six months before New Hampshire, George W. Bush has raised $36.3 million dollars, nearly twice as much the rest of the sprawling Republican field combined, and there's not much left to go around. Arizona senator John McCain, who at least has the Senate floor to campaign from, is a distant second with $6.1 million. Liddy Dole and Christian activist Gary Bauer each have around $3.4 million; Dan Quayle is closer to $3 million. Pat Buchanan has raised $2.4 million, and Lamar Alexander is scraping by with $2.2 million and frantically downsizing his campaign just to last until Iowa. (Steve Forbes has raised $2.7 million, just to see if he could, but of course he's mostly cutting his own checks.) On the Democratic side, the faintness of Al Gore's pulse has kept things closer the veep has netted only $18.5 million, with $11.5 million riding on the alternative, former jock and senator Bill Bradley.

The Favorites Factor

In this front-loaded 2000 election season, Bush and Gore have so much money because they are the presumptive nominees; they are also the presumptive nominees, in part, because they have so much money. Front-runners do not complain about ironies like that, nor is one likely to admit publicly that when he wins, he will be less a public servant than a corporation, in thrall to polls on visible issues and to special-interest shareholders on everything else. The task of voicing such unpleasantness of running on it tends to be taken up by the underdogs, to the candidates who must make a virtue out of losing, out of not attracting those almighty dollars like flies to honey. Who think maybe they can win that way.

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