In 1974, Congress passed sweeping legislation regulating presidential campaign contributions. Limits were established on total spending as well as individual and group (PAC or Political Action Committee) contributions, and a system of partial public financing was put in place. That legislation has been successful in eliminating the corrupting influence of direct campaign contributions in presidential elections.
But Congress chose not to include itself in this reform process. Aside from placing limits on individual and PAC contributions, members of Congress remained vulnerable to "big giving." The stage was set for the birth of a major problem-one that now threatens the integrity of our unique democratic process. The millions of dollars of direct giving that could no longer influence the outcome of the presidential election began to flow to congressional elections. In 1974, there were 608 PACs with contributions of $12 million. In 1982, there were 3,400 PACs with contributions of more than $80 million. Conservative estimates for the 1984 election place the number of PACs at 4,500 and total contributions at more than $100 million.
Studies based on data from the Federal Election Commission show a startling correlation between contributions and votes. The skyrocketing cost of election campaigns has favored the wealthy candidate and created an increasing dependency on PAC money. In the current Congress, over 100 members of the House received more than one-half of their contributions from PACs and the average member received over one-third from PACs.
In addition to direct contributions, huge sums are spent as "independent expenditures." Much of the campaign advertising funded by these expenditures is of questionable truth and negative in nature. Many good legislators have been beaten by floods of television money from independent sources.
Congress must legislate an end to this financial influence race.
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED That the Board of Trustees of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations calls on Congress to pass legislation that includes the following principles:
A limitation on the aggregate amount of PAC contributions that can be accepted by any candidate, including contributions in kind from special interest groups as well as contributions in cash;
A system of partial public financing of congressional elections based on matching small contributions, as is done in presidential elections;
A limitation on total campaign spending by any candidate who accepts public financing;
A limitation on the amount of personal wealth any candidate who accepts public financing could spend in his or her campaign; and
An establishment of free electronic media response time for candidates who are the targets of negative political advertising.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the Board of Trustees of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations urges that every congregant write, call, or visit members of Congress to support these reforms.