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Letters to the 107th Congress

March 19, 2001

Dear Senator:

As the Senate begins to debate campaign finance reform legislation, I write on behalf of the American Bar Association to urge you to support reform that will increase disclosure of contributions and expenditures; adjust the individual contribution limit for inflation; ban the solicitation and use of soft money in federal campaigns; and encourage a system of public financing for federal candidates

The American Bar Association has long been concerned with campaign finance and electoral issues. In 1973, the ABA created its Standing Committee on Election Law with the purpose of developing and examining ways to improve the federal electoral process. The overriding premise of these efforts has been to support candidate and citizen participation in the electoral process, and to increase public confidence through accountability and disclosure.

As you know, campaign finance laws have not been substantially revised by Congress for over twenty years. Changes in campaign finance mechanisms, the infusion of soft money into the system, the burgeoning use of electronic media, and the emergence of issue advertisements have literally transformed the ways in which campaigns are financed and run. Yet our laws and regulations have not kept pace with the innovations in campaign activities. We believe that the statutory framework for campaign finance regulation needs to be modified to address these changing trends in order to ensure the integrity of the campaign finance system.

The American Bar Association recommends that the following principles be included as a part of any campaign finance legislation:

Full Disclosure. Disclosure is a vital and necessary component to maintaining the integrity of the campaign finance system. The ABA supports full and timely disclosure of campaign contributions and expenditures in excess of minimal amounts. All contributions to and expenditures by state and federal party committees should be reported publicly and electronically.

Reasonable Contribution Limits, Adjusted and Indexed for Inflation. Campaign contributions to candidates and political parties should be limited to reasonable amounts. The current individual contribution limit was set in 1974 and has not been adjusted to take into account inflation, increases in the size of the electorate and the dramatic rise in campaign costs. Raising the individual contribution limit would allow candidates to spend less time fundraising and more discussing substantive issues, help level the playing field between incumbents and challengers, and channel money currently being contributed outside the federal system (soft money) back into the regulated process. Therefore, the ABA believes that current individual campaign contribution limits should be adjusted for inflation and indexed thereafter.

Soft Money Ban. The ABA opposes the solicitation and use in Presidential and Congressional campaigns of what is now commonly known as soft money, i.e. contributions to political party committees in unlimited amounts by corporations, labor unions and individuals, and supports efforts to prohibit such contributions. Soft money has been used as a method by which contribution limits and prohibitions under the Federal Election Campaign Act have been successfully circumvented and has created at least the appearance of, if not the reality, of corruption in the political system. This issue must be addressed in order to help restore public confidence in the electoral process.

Public Financing. Partial public financing of congressional and presidential elections is a desirable means of providing a floor for campaign funds and for promoting and ensuring an effective and competitive electoral process and minimizing the importance of wealth and the need for large contributions. We oppose any diminution of the public financing system for presidential campaigns, and would encourage consideration of such a system for congressional candidates.

We are pleased to note that S. 27, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2001, sponsored by Senators McCain, Feingold, and Cochran, contains provisions that reflect a number of these important principles, and we hope that consideration will be given to adjusting for inflation the individual contribution limit to a candidate per election and creating a system of public financing for congressional candidates.

Reforming campaign finance laws to reflect the foregoing principles will help ensure increased citizen and candidate participation and restored public confidence in the electoral process. We urge you to keep these principles in mind during the forthcoming debate and to vote in favor of legislation that would enact the needed changes to our campaign finance system. If you would like further information, please do not hesitate to contact me or Kristi Gaines in the Governmental Affairs Office at 202-662-1763.


Martha W. Barnett
President, American Bar Association

107th Congress Letters Home

Governmental Affairs Office
740 Fifteenth Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005
ph: 202-662-1760
fx: 202-662-1762

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