Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives took a major step toward returning America's government to its people when it passed the bipartisan Shays/Meehan bill campaign reform bill. The Shays/Meehan bill would begin to clean up our political process by:
Banning "soft money," which means it would stop wealthy corporations, unions and individuals from channeling unlimited, unregulated contributions through the political parties for use in specific federal campaigns.
Building a fair and accountable system by requiring outside groups running campaign ads targeted at candidates but disguised as "issue ads" to play by the same campaign finance rules as the candidates themselves during the last weeks of a campaign.
We need to get big money out of the people's business. The pharmaceutical industry alone made contributions of $381 million between 1991 and 2000, including more than $24 million in soft money donations to political parties. People who need relief from soaring drug costs, including AARP's 112,000 members in Alaska, find it hard to get their voices heard above the noise of cash. Every debate about prescription drugs, whether about patents, the availability of generic drugs or incorporating a prescription drug benefit in Medicare, is overshadowed by the huge amounts of campaign money provided by the affected industries.
Our financial and political institutions have been shaken recently by the collapse of Enron Corp. The story is one of multiple, pervasive and morally corrosive conflicts of interests, engineered by the avalanche of cash showered upon politicians, cash that helped defeat reforms in the pension and securities laws that might have protected shareholders and employees.
Campaign finance reform would allow lawmakers to spend more time on issues that are important to voters and less time chasing money from special interests. Our system must ensure that lawmakers concern themselves with all voters, not just those who can write the biggest checks.
In the next few days, the U.S. Senate will take up the issue of campaign reform. All indications are that there are enough votes, from both republican and democratic senators, to pass Shays/Meehan and send the bill on to President Bush. Unfortunately, a small group of senators are working hard to prevent Shays/Meehan from coming up for a vote. We must not allow a few senators to thwart the will of the entire Congress. I urge all Alaskans to contact Sen. Ted Stevens and Sen. Frank Murkowski to demand that they allow Shays/Meehan to come to the floor for a vote.
The stakes are high in the Senate and the choice is clear. We can either move toward cleaning up our political system or we can keep the status quo, which allows big money interests to drown out the voices of ordinary Americans.
Liz Lucas is the president of AARP Alaska. She has lived in Alaska for 50 years and is a retired educator who taught in Juneau for 28 years.