With no presidential contest to focus public attention, voter turnout this year promises to fall once again, to less than one-third of the electorate by some estimatesand low turnout generally means that blue-collar workers, the lower middle class, and the poor don't get to the polls. The last off-year election, 1994, saw fewer than 39 percent of eligible voters turn out to vote in the "Republican revolution." (That's compared to 55 percent turnout in 1992, when Ross Perot helped fire things up, and 47 percent in 1996, when Bob Dole helped cool things down.) A return to 1994 voting levels could help to entrench Republicans in both houses and keep liberal policies on the margins of debate.
As the 104th Congress stumbled to a
close in 1996, defenders of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
breathed a collective sigh of relief. Despite intensive lobbying
by the drug and medical device industries, legislation designed
to scuttle the FDA ran aground on the shoals of partisan acrimony
and voter unease. Weary from bruising budget battles, Republicans
abandoned the measures and industry lobbyists regrouped.
eltway insiders generally treat public financing of congressional elections
as a jokeit's politically unthinkable, they say. Senator Mitch McConnell, the
Kentucky Republican, seems to revel in denouncing the idea (along with any other
proposition for campaign finance reform), with no visible political damage to
himself. Even the half-a-loaf reform measure sponsored by Arizona Republican
John McCain and Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold studiously avoids any mention
of public financing. Yet while reform has foundered in Washingtonnot a single
bill has been signed into law since the 1970smany states across the country
have moved ahead.
The explosion of issue advocacy -- money spent by individuals and independent groups to support political causes -- threatens to make even an outright ban on "soft" money irrelevant. Worse, much of what passes for "issue advocacy" is really covert campaign financing. Still worse, it can't be regulated.
Even as it prepares for yet another attempt to ban unregulated soft money in the form of the modest McCain-Feingold bill, the movement for campaign finance reform is further than ever from its goal of getting money out of politics.