Vote-Reform Redux

WITHOUT politics and electoral campaigns there would be no democratic government. The combination has served the United States and other democracies well. But deception and dishonesty too often accompany the political process.

There is no getting around the fact that to participate in the American political process at any level requires much money: The cost of running for office in large cities and states, and certainly at the national level, can be astronomical.

The US has just emerged from a national election in which candidates for the House of Representatives and Senate spent $678 million - 52 percent above that spent in any previous congressional election. Much of that money went for TV. The supposed goal behind all this activity is to provide American voters intimate portraits of candidates. But do political campaigns have to cost so much? There have been a number of attempts to provide such access while keeping the process both open and honest.

The now-famous (or infamous) political action committees (PACs) in House and Senate elections are one such device. But PACs have become not a boon, but a boondoggle, and need at the least to be reformed.

A 1974 law, passed with the intention of financing presidential elections and defraying part of the cost of primary campaigns, has been, in effect, pushed aside by what is termed "soft money."

This is a subterfuge through which money labeled for general "party building" somehow finds its way into the campaign coffers of individual candidates. Soft money was much in circulation in the 1992 election.

There is one easy, inexpensive way voters can support the process: Check the box on the income tax form donating $1 - just one dollar - for financing national campaigns. In 1980, 28.7 percent did so, the highest number reached. The estimate for 1993 is expected to be about 19 percent. (Checking the box doesn't increase or decrease one's refund.)

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