|era and the beginning of another.
We must come to grips with energy, the economy and the vision of our national
future for decades to come.
What we see coming out of single-issue politics
is an array of fractured interests, each out for its own gain and advancement,
with none attempting to address how their particular point of view might
affect the larger national interest. What we don't see are the kind of
answers we need.
* * *
The danger in the growth and influence and pressure
exerted by single-issue groups is that too many lawmakers may find it easier
to do nothing at all. Clearly, we are headed down a very dangerous path.
I'm not suggesting that lawmakers should not have
their feet held to the fire now and then -- on the contrary, I accept and
What bothers me is that we now seem embarked on
a mission that is beginning to remind me of the old story about the camel
that was designed by a committee -- the final product could neither walk
nor stand. I just don't think that the single-issue influence represents
a healthy turn of events for government in general. And it isn't just the
Congress that gets the single-issue heat -- it's City Councils, Boards
of Supervisors, State Legislatures -- everyone up and down the line is
beseiged by these mini-campaigns that almost universally ignore the big
picture in favor of the narrow view.
What is best for a part of the country, or for
one group of its citizens, is not always what's best for the whole country
or all of its citizens -- and the broad concern is what a national lawmaker
must weigh in almost every vote he or she casts on the floor of Congress.
* * *
I co-sponsored a bill last year to restore, in
a small way, some of the balance that Americans deserve in their political
process. This piece of legislation dealt with Political Action Committees,
the legally constituted political arms of hundreds and hundreds of special
interest groups in business, organized labor and many, many others.
This legislation sought to limit these Political
Action Committees -- or PACs, as they are known -- to a donation of $5,000
in each election year. Today, they are limited to $5,000 per campaign,
or $15,000 for each election year. Congressional candidates would also
be limited to a total of $50,000 in donations from all PACs for any single
(That bill passed the House, in modified form.
The dollar figures were changed, to $6,000 per single contribution and
to a $70,000 maximum which candidates could receive in any election year
from all PACs. The bill is now before the Senate.)
The amount of special interest PAC money in congressional
elections in 1978 was 70 percent more than in 1976 and 200 percent more
than in 1974.
|These groups have a right and a responsibility
to participate in the political process. But the fundamental issue here
is balance -- balance versus dominance -- who will be participating
in our political process and who will be dominating it? Unfortunately,
the difference will become bigger still, unless we act now.
Isn't it better for our public people to depend
truly on the public than on the special interests? Any special interest?
Winston Churchill once said that democracy wasn't
perfect, it was just better than anything else. I agree. In our 200 years
of existence Americans have seen the need from time to time, for reform
of one kind or another. Civil servants once bought and sold jobs but the
"Spoils System" eventually was reformed into a government workforce free
of political coercion.
When Teddy Roosevelt determined that trusts were
a threat to the American economy, he broke them up. The economy was better
Congress has recognized the need to impose reforms
on its own rules, and no longer is it an institution dominated by dictatorial
committee chairmen who could kill legislation on a whim.
For all their foresight (and it was considerable)
the Founding Fathers couldn't possibly foresee every twist and turn the
country would take. Along the way, when things got out of kilter, they
We have seen presidential election campaigns in
which 200 men donated a total of $20 million. When people donate that kind
of money to any cause, some are likely to come back and ask for something.
Big money can turn into big obligations. And we have seen times in our
recent past when, in the end, it spelled big trouble. When that happens,
we all lose.
Democracy operates on a fragile check-and-balance
scale. No single group, no single person, should play the dominant
role in determining the outcome of an election, how a law is written, which
law will be repealed -- or whatever.
Democracy watered down isn't much better than
no democracy at all. That's what too much influence by any one side can
mean -- a watering down of the process that distorts points of view and
pits the narrow interest against the national interest.
In this troubled time of lagging faith in government
and institutions, of frustrations and feelings of helplessness, it is not
the time to allow our political process to become a lopsided sounding board
that can only fuel the fears of the cynical.
There is one thing worse than overlooking an error
-- and that is finding it but failing to correct it.