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Lewis, continued from page 8 ing Together and The Media Fund \(which receive millions Leadership Forum \(headed by a former aide to House MajorBut the evidence belies the critics’ claims. Party soft money has not migrated to the 527s. They haven’t raised any more money so far this election$67 millionthan they raised in 2000. The reason apparently is that many corporations and big individual donors aren’t giving to 527s because they don’t have a direct connection to the parties and officeholders I don’t like 527s and believe we should apply McCainFeingold’s soft money ban to them as soon as possible. Unfortunately, proposed regulations to apply McCain-Feingold to 527s failed this spring. A hostile Federal Election Commission and Democratic and Republican interest groups undermined the effort. McCain-Feingold is achieving its goals of weaning the parties and candidates off soft money. Reform can and does work. Myth 2. Rich Angels Will Save Horatio Alger Challengers: Contribution Limits Hurt Competition. Officeholders often assert that they oppose contribution limits because restricting really big donations will hurt challengers \(Why incumbents would care about their challengers challengers. A comprehensive study by U.S. Public Interest Research Group, which looked at 35,000 election results over 20 years in 45 states, found contribution limits decreased the margin of victory of incumbents. The study also found that the lower the contribution limits, the smaller the incumbents’ margin of victory. It’s common sense. Limits help challengers because it’s incumbents, not challengers, who are most likely to get lots of big donations. Only incumbents are in a position to provide big donors legislative favors. Big donations to challengers are, after all, a poor investment because the odds are that incumbents will win. Just like Horatio Alger is an economic fantasyand people rarely, if ever, stumble on a rich patron to pull them up from rags to richesin politics challengers aren’t going to find many big donors to come to their rescue. And the few they find won’t be angelic. If no limits actually helped challengers, then Texas should be a national model of competitive elections. Butsurprise!we stink. We ranked 5th among the states in the widest average margin of victory, 47th in having the fewest number of candidates per race, and 5th in incumbent re-election rates of all legislative seats had only one major party candidate. Only 15 percent were competitive \(generously defined as the outraised their challengers more than 9 to 1. The old Soviet politburo had more competition than the Texas Legislature. Contribution limits will help make Texas elections more Both major parties can and are thriving on smaller donations from regular Americans; they don’t need special interest cash. competitive. They also will force candidates, challengers, and incumbents, to broaden their support and get more funds from average citizens. Myth 3. One Dollar, One Vote: Campaign Reform Infringes On Free Speech. The Supreme Court, whether dominated by liberals, moderates, or conservatives, has always upheld the corporate prohibition and contribution limits against First Amendment arguments. Contributions, the Court has said, do not constitute speech by donors, but rather are simply a means by which donors support candidates’ speech. As long as contribution limits aren’t so low as to prevent candidates from getting their message out to the public, they are a constitutional tool to protect democracy and prevent corruption. In short, the public interest in democracy overrides the quite marginal free speech interests of a very few donors giving unlimited contributions. Democracy is one person, one vote, not one dollar, one vote. It’s rule by the people, not rule by the rich and powerful. Bill Moyers said it best: “People who have more money should be free to buy more cars, more homes, more vacations, and more gizmos if they want. They should not be able to buy more democracy:’ The corporate prohibition serves to protect democracy. It came about because late 19th-century robber barons and their huge corporate trusts were buyingliterally. The prohibition, as the Supreme Court has recognized, is a means to protect democracy from the modern reality of giant aggregations of wealth. Reform can work to make our voices heard in Austin. Legislators today hear only the siren songs of insurance companies, utilities, polluters, and other powerful interests that want at your wallet. We need to enact reform now in Texas, before corporate soft money proliferates and contributions grow ever larger. With erupting corporate contribution scandals, we have a real opportunity next session to adopt important reforms in Texas: reasonable contribution limits, closing the loopholes in the corporate prohibition, and creating an Ethic Commission with huevos. Join us and the Clean Up Texas Politics action team at www. Democracy in Texas is worth fighting for. Fred Lewis is an attorney and president of Campaigns for People, a non-partisan, nonprofit organization that supports state campaign finance reform. 10 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7/30/04