The bold experiment to which America's founders pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor survives with considerable vigor today, 223 years after the colonists declared their independence from the British crown. But a new tyranny is afoot that can corrode the electoral system. It's money.
Never has the specter of huge campaign funds had such a dramatic and dominant impact on a presidential election campaign as that of recent weeks. The $36.3 million collected by Texas Gov. George W. Bush has made him the instant favorite to win the Republican nomination more than a year before the parties officially pick their candidates.
Bush barely hit the trail before he had bankrolled more dollars than all of his eight or more Republican opponents combined. He is being anointed the virtual winner before his ideas or philosophy have been tested and before many Republicans know much about him.
One of Bush's opponents, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) remarked on this ominous development by indicting the election campaign finance system as "an elaborate influence-peddling scheme in which both parties conspire to stay in office by selling the country to the highest bidder."
McCain is correct, although the campaign finance reform bill that he and Sen. Russell D. Feingold (D-Wis.) are sponsoring would not change the specific rules under which Bush got his $36.3 million. Nevertheless, the Bush juggernaut does illustrate how big money skews the democratic process--much as the Clinton-Gore campaign did with its fund-raising excesses in 1996.
McCain, Feingold and Reps. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Martin T. Meehan (D-Mass.) are the patriots of 1999 as they battle the Congressional leadership to win an open vote on campaign spending reform. The refusal of the Senate and House leaders to allow an early vote on the issue is indefensible. Their charades and hypocrisies are shameful.
Conceded, Bush cannot be faulted for his success. He is playing by the rules in force. And Bush is correct in saying that his bonanza of funds indicates that "people are hungry for something." Republicans are indeed hungry for a winner.
Unfortunately, Bush opposes most of the reforms that McCain and his colleagues are proposing. The Texan may be a fresh face, but his opposition to reform smacks of good ol' boy politics.
The democratic system envisioned by the signers of the Declaration of Independence has survived much in the past 223 years, including a terrible civil war, depressions and world conflict. But big money and its defenders in Congress defy the Declaration's concept of rule by consent of the governed. A majority in Congress wants reform. The American people want reform. But their voice is being denied as surely as King George denied the colonists their rights. It's time for a little revolution on the issue of campaign finances.