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Campaign Finance Reform Is Right for Conservatives

Location: Wall Street Journal

The Senate yesterday opened debate on campaign finance reform that conservatives should embrace.

Five years after America elected a Republican Congress, conservatives have learned that talking about our agenda is the easy part. We talk about cutting taxes, providing real school choice, the need for a strong national defense, and the importance of saving Social Security. But the reality is that our party has all but abandoned the fight to reform government, to make it smaller and less removed in style and substance from the people it serves. Our party has all but given up Ronald Reagan's fight to curb special-interest influence in Washington so that we can fight for smaller government, lower taxes, and a stronger defense.

Who's to blame for these failures? The status quo mentality that prevails among both Washington Democrats and Republicans. Neither side is much interested in advancing a real agenda. They just want to stay in office, which requires amassing huge amounts of campaign cash. And where does that money come from? Only large institutions like labor unions, special interest groups and corporations can write the $100,000 checks that buy access. So on issue after issue, the cravings of the special interests take priority over the needs of working Americans.

Big business and big labor are accomplices working together to protect [the mushy middle of] big government. Big unions get big spending, and big business gets corporate welfare and special tax breaks-all at the expense of the average American.

The debate over health care is a perfect example of this unholy alliance. The Democratic Party is afraid to buck the trial lawyers' lobby to end the senseless parade of lawsuits against healthcare insurers. Republicans are equally afraid of the powerful HMO lobby that blocks any attempts at managed care reform. The result? Gridlock. And the Democrats get an issue they can unfairly use at the expense of conservatives.

Here is another example of the baleful impact of soft money. In the last several years, while Republicans controlled Congress, "earmarks" in appropriations bills have dramatically increased. The reason for this pork-barrel spending is that Republicans and Democrats are scrambling to reward major donors to our campaigns. The American people want their money spent on their priorities, and their priorities aren't ethanol subsidies and free advertising for giant corporations.

Imagine the promises we could keep and the good we could do if politicians stopped treating the federal treasury as a duty-free shop for soft-money donors. With the money we would save from ending cash subsidies to special interests like the producers of ethanol, sugar, oil and gas, we could support a three-year school voucher test in almost all of the largest school districts in America. Ending unlimited, unregulated contributions would do away with the real obstacle to comprehensive tax reform: the temptation to put tax loopholes for special interests ahead of tax relief for working families. And a national defense policy no longer driven by soft money contributions wouldn't waste billions of dollars on weapons systems that have no use while 12,000 enlisted personnel live on Food Stamps.

On a level playing field, where $100,000 checks from special interests aren't allowed, I have no doubt that conservatives would win the great policy debates. Conservatives should stop being afraid of campaign finance reform just because some liberals support it. Campaign finance reform isn't about right versus left, it's about Main Street vs. K Street.

Five years after America elected a Republican Congress, the conservative agenda we promised the voters is still an unfinished work. Children remain trapped in bad schools, without the freedom of opportunity that vouchers would provide. American working men and women continue to pay far too much of their hard-earned salaries in unnecessary taxes. Government spending, fueled by pork-barrel projects for favored constituencies, continues to increase at breakneck speeds.

This is not the Republican revolution for which so many of us fought. It's time to get rid of the special interests and their big-dollar donors. That's the only way we'll get rid of the status quo in Washington.

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