Jewish World Review Jan. 31, 2001 / 8 Shevat, 5761
McCain, a Republican senator from Arizona, is pushing the McCain-Feingold bill, which would ban unregulated soft money contributions to political parties from wealthy organizations and individuals.
Bush opposed McCain-Feingold throughout the last campaign, but if it passes this time -- and McCain might just have the votes he needs -- it would be embarrassing for Bush to make it his first veto.
Knowing that, McCain has been pushing hard to get it voted on sooner rather than later.
The meeting was supposed to be a low-key affair in the residence.
The White House is divided into three parts: the East Wing, which is where the ceremonial rooms like the State Dining Room and East Room are located; the West Wing, which is where the Oval Office and the other working offices of the White House are; and the big building in the center, known as the residence, which contains the Lincoln Bedroom and is where the First Family lives.
McCain had been told the meeting would be in the residence, just him and Bush, so they could talk man-to-man without political posturing.
But when McCain got there, he was told the meeting had been switched to the Oval Office, and Vice President Cheney would also attend. This was bad news: Cheney is even more opposed to McCain-Feingold than Bush is.
Why the opposition?
Well, look at the figures: The two presidential campaigns were restricted by law to spending $67.6 million each for the last general election.
But, at the time of their last report before Election Day, the Republican National Committee had raised about $211 million, 74 percent more than 1996, and the Democrats had raised about $199 million, an increase of 85 percent over four years before.
In other words, that $67.6 million "limit" was being wildly exceeded by the parties.
Which was another phenomenon of 2000: What was considered audacious fund raising by Clinton/Gore in 1996 is now standard procedure, at least in terms of the kind of money raised.
As The Washington Post concluded, "The result, according to election lawyers and political scientists and practitioners, is that the basic pillars of the campaign finance system -- a ban on corporate contributions, strict limits on individual donations, public financing for the presidential general election campaign -- have been effectively eroded."
So if you were a Republican politician -- and Republicans always raise more than the Democrats, their contributors being wealthier -- why would you want to give up that advantage?
While it has been illegal since 1907 for corporations to make political contributions and illegal since 1943 for labor unions to contribute to federal campaigns, in reality under the non-rules of soft money they can give virtually whatever they want.
Where does this money go? To television. The ever increasing cost of buying TV time is the greatest single reason campaign costs keep going up.
Today, one out of every five dollars raised goes to TV advertising. Two kinds of people benefit from this: the media consultants, who get a percentage of all the TV time purchased -- just one or two big campaigns can set a consultant up for life -- and the TV station owners, who got an estimated $600 million in revenue from political advertising in 2000, a 40 percent increase over 1996.
No wonder broadcasters have pre-tax profit margins that range from 25 percent to 50 percent. Unfortunately for the candidates, they are getting less bang for their TV buck. "Local TV stations charge 5 to 10 times what they did 20 years ago to deliver the same audience," said Neal Oxman of Campaign Group Inc., a Philadelphia media consulting firm. "They're getting away with flat-out stealing compared to what they're delivering."
And TV is virtually the whole ballgame. Of political advertising dollars, 83.5 percent goes to TV, 10.2 percent to radio, 4.6 percent to newspapers, 1.5 percent to billboards and 0.2 percent to magazines.
Who, if anybody, actually watches political commercials is anybody's guess. The real appeal of commercials is that they are completely controlled by the campaign.
A news conference, a speech or a debate can all go wrong. But carefully made TV commercials, ones with pleasing images and nice music, are candidate-proof.
And anything that the candidate cannot screw up is considered gold to a political campaign. McCain wants to end the grip that money and contributors have on the political system, and his bill is supposed to come up before Congress in March.
If it passes, the future probably will not be paradise. Wealthy people and corporations will always find a way to influence politics. But it would be an improvement.
And if fails, we know for sure what the future will hold: business -- big business -- as