Resolution Adopted by the CCAR

CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM

Adopted by the 114th Annual Convention
of the Central Conference of American Rabbis
Omni Shoreham, Washington D.C.
March, 2003

Background

Thousands of years ago the Bible warned against mingling money and politics. Deuteronomy 16 states, "You shall not judge unfairly: you shall know no partiality; you shall not take bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just." The Talmud, asks in Tractate Kethuboth "What is the reason for {[the prohibition against taking] a gift? Because as soon as a man receives a gift from another he becomes so well disposed towards him that he becomes like his own person, and no man sees himself in the wrong."

Our tradition also speaks clearly and unhesitatingly to the critical importance of appointing leaders according to their merit, and for maintaining the ability of leaders to act independently for the public good, unfettered by the demands of the wealthy. The Talmud quotes the biblical verse "You shall not make with Me gods of silver, neither shall you make for yourselves gods of gold." (Exodus 20:23) Since the fashioning of all idols, whether made of gold or wood, is prohibited, Rav Ashi explains that the verse actually condemns a judge who comes to his or her position because of silver or gold. The Shulchan Aruch, a 16th century compilation of Jewish law, goes further to state that "If someone appoints as a judge a person who is not fit for the positionhe violates a Biblical prohibition. If a judge was appointed on account of his money, it is forbidden to appear before him for a judgment." (Shulchan Aruch, Hoshen Mishpat 8:1) In today 's electoral system it has become too common for politicians to win public office because of the size of their campaign coffers.

On March 27 2002, President Bush signed into law the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (The McCain-Feingold/Shays-Meehan Bill). The historic legislation prohibits national party committees, federal candidates and federal office holders from raising or spending unlimited soft money campaign contributions from corporations, labor unions and wealthy individuals. The law prohibits corporations and labor unions from using their funds to pay for ads featuring a federal candidate that are broadcast to the candidate's electorate within 30 days of the primary and 60 days of the general election. It also increases limits on individual contributions to House, Senate and presidential campaigns to $2,000.

The Federal Elections Commission is charged with enforcing election laws in America. The six-member commission consists of three appointees from each major political party. Since the passing of the McCain- Feingold/Shays-Meehan legislation the FEC has voted to limit the effect of some of the new campaign finance regulations. The law prohibited Presidents and federal elected officials from soliciting soft money contributions for a political party. By a 4 to 2 vote the FEC adopted a regulation saying that the President and other federal officeholders can "recommend" or "suggest" that a donor make a soft-money contribution as long as they do not explicitly "ask" for the contribution. The new campaign finance law also prohibited state parties from spending any soft money to influence federal elections. The FEC voted to allow state parties to use soft-money in get-out- the-vote efforts that influence federal elections, including acquiring voting lists, setting up phone banks, and sending out mass mailings.

Even if the letter and spirit of the BPCRA were vigorously enforced, the law would be only the first step on a long road toward a democracy where a person's wealth no longer determines his or her political influence.

Federal candidates raised $2.2 billion in hard money during the 2000 election cycle, donations that were not affected by the new law. Even with a complete ban on soft money, our elected representatives will still be beholden to wealthy donors. Those who give hard money donations are not representative of the rest of the American population: Only one quarter of one percent of the population of the United States gave a hard money contribution of $200 or more in the 2000 election cycle. A 1997 survey of such donors revealed that four-fifths had an annual family income of more than $100,000 a year and that more than nine out of ten were white. Corporate and Labor PACs are also a huge source of hard money. 71 U.S. Senators and 188 U.S. Representatives, for example, took direct hard- money donations from Enron. 75% of $19 million contributed by the auto industry in 2000 was in hard money. Over 60% of the real estate industry's $79 million was hard money, as was 40% of the pharmaceutical industry's $19 million donated during the 2000 election cycle.

Studies based on data from the Federal Election Commission show a startling correlation between contributions and votes. The skyrocketing cost of election campaigns has favored the wealthy candidate and created an increasing dependency on PAC money.

"Clean Money" campaign reform reduces the inherent conflicts of interest that arise when the campaigns of public servants are privately financed. Under a "clean money" system, candidates who agree to forego private contributions, accept strict spending limits, and demonstrate a significant threshold of public support, receive an equal and limited amount of money to run their campaigns from a publicly financed clean election fund. Clean Money campaigns have been successful in Arizona, Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine and have been implemented to varying degrees.

On a national level, the current campaign finance system has also proven to significantly disadvantage challengers, who are often unable to raise the campaign funds necessary to buy the time on national television that is essential in getting their message out to voters.

In the 2000 election cycle, approximately $1 billion of the total $4 billion raised was spent on television advertising. Between 1980 and 2000, the amount of money spent on political ads more than quadrupled, even after adjusting for inflation. The rising costs of political ads corresponds with a reduction in the amount of time broadcast television devotes to substantive coverage of issues, debates, conventions and candidate speeches. The three national network nightly newscasts devoted 28 percent less time to coverage of the 2000 campaign than they did to the 1988 campaign, the last open-seat contest for the presidency. The typical local television station aired just 45 seconds a night of candidate discourse in the month before the 2000 election, and the national networks aired just 64 seconds a night--both far below a five-minute a night voluntary standard recommended by a White House advisory panel charged with updating the public interest obligations of broadcasters.

Congress must legislate an end to this pernicious influence of money on our political system.

THEREFORE, the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism resolves to:

Support legislation to establish a system of free electronic media time for candidate ads, debates, and issue discussion before every election;

Call on the Federal Elections Commission to uphold the letter and spirit of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002; and

Affirm our commitment to public financing of political campaigns including support for state level "clean money" initiatives.