Page 21


Observer interview: Billy Goldberg Before last November’s election, Billy Goldberg who’s been chairman of the State Democratic Executive Committee since Septemberwas only somewhat concerned about the $7 million-plus spending spree by Republican Bill Clements in his gubernatorial race against Goldberg’s man, Democrat John Hill. But, having absorbed the shock of the surprising victory Clements contrived, Goldberg now has a keener interest in campaign spending limits and such. So last month, as Clements was planning parties to pay off his campaign debt, we talked with Goldberg about his current views on campaign finance. Eds. OBSERVER: What did you learn from that election? BILLY GOLDBERG: I always knew that having money was important in politics, but I had not anticipated that even with [$7 million, Clements] could make up the difference in experience between the two candidates. One of the things we learned is that probably the most effective money Clements spent was not the visible money, not the media [expenditures]. There were two things that I’d say really had the greatest effect. [One was] his extensive use of telephone banks, which produced a turnout of [voters] who had previously been [found] to favor his candidacy maybe two and a half times as high as the turnout in our traditionally Democratic precincts. The other method was mailings, to religious [and similar] groups, of publications that were quite defamatory in some cases. They were mailed extensively, especially to rural areas. Frankly, what he did is, he took his campaign statewide, he took his money statewide. This was not the case with Republicans in the past. OBSERVER: So it’s not just the amount of money, but the use he made of it? GOLDBERG: Well, both. Whatever [campaign idea] they thought of that might have some effect, there was always money there to do it. Most of the time, candidates have to balance Off competing demands on their budgets, but I can’t find that he ever budgeted or set any financial restraint at all on his staff. The theory just seemed to be: spend whatever you, think will be helpful. OBSERVER: With that election over, you seem to have looked at the campaign spending question again, and now you’re talking about spending limits. GOLDBERG: [This election] indicates that if you spend enough money, it’s possible to win any race. In a democratic society, it should be possible for any per son to seek public office and start with an opportunity to win, [but such] massive expenditures make a statewide race out of the question for the great majority. But it’s not an easy problem to solve. OBSERVER: What do we do about it? GOLDBERG: Frankly, I don’t have a panacea. As a matter of public policy, I think it’s something that ought to be studied. The federal government has studied it and come up with a limitation on the amount one individual can contribute. That’s one solution. However, understand that the Supreme Court of the United States has held that you can’t limit the candidate himself. OBSERVER: Right. GOLDBERG: Which really raises the crux of the [problem in] this particular situation. We have some laws that require disclosing who [campaign contributors] are [so that voters], before they go to the polls, can see who’s contributing what sums of money to which candidate. But this time, apparently about two-thirds of the money was in the form of loans to Clements himself, and now he’s out raising the funds after the election. It may not violate the letter of the law, but it certainly does the spirit of it. If you carry that to its logical conclusion, a [candidate with] the financial capacity wouldn’t have to have any contributions before the election. The public record would show that no one had contributed to his campaign, but then, after the election, he would go out and raise money to pay off the debt. OBSERVER: It’s a lot easier to raise money from the governor’s mansion, of course. Do you think the Legislature ought to prevent this loan technique? GOLDBERG: I think it certainly should. He is not the first one to have a campaign debtI’M not saying that we should not allow any debt. But I think the percentage of debt that a candidate should be able to create with his own credit in comparison to the funds that are contributed ought to be a reasonable percentage and certainly shouldn’t be twothirds or a half of the whole ball of wax. OBSERVER: You’ve talked of a need to consider some spending limits. What about public financing, which we have iri some federal races? GOLDBERG: Well, I really don’t have a fixed opinion. I’m inclined to believe that private campaign contributions are ‘part of our American system. Rather than use taxpayers’ funds that are badly needed for other things, I would like to see a limitation on the size of contributions, but permit them. That’s a personal feel ing. [The Democratic] Party has not taken a position on public financing. OBSERVER: Some of the Republicans are now talking about tax exemptions for campaign contributions. What do you think of that? GOLDBERG: That doesn’t do very much. It’s an added incentive, but I think probably if we permitted substantial campaign contributions to be [deducted], it might lessen the contributions that our charities and health agencies and educational institutions receive. I kind of believe that should not be. OBSERVER: Isn’t there also the problem that a tax exemption would primarily benefit upper-middle-class and rich people? Lowerand middle-income people, who are a majority in the Democratic Party, don’t itemize their tax deductions. GOLDBERG:’ Well, yes. All exemptions, all deductions, amount to more for the guy who pays the most taxes. OBSERVER: Let me shift a moment to political action committees. We found that corporate PACs in Texas this year gave $20 million to our campaignsan unparalleled amount [Obs., Dec. 1, 1978]. Does the growth of PACs, and particularly the heavy corporate giving, alarm you? GOLDBERG: No, that doesn’t alarm me. The more people that will participate in politics, the better a government we will have. And one thing about the PAC contribution is that it pretty well indicates the [interests] of the contributor. I don’t want to restrict political activity. I think we need more of it. Now, we may want to have some limitation on the amount that a .PAC can give to any one candidate. OBSERVER: What about providing free or reduced-cost television ads? GOLDBERG: Well, I just don’t think the government can impose on an industry the obligation to sell its product below the market price. I think it would be a mistake for our government to start THE TEXAS OBSERVER 8 as