Now, to restore a sense of ethics in our society, either president-elect canstart by reasserting ethical standards in the financing of politicalcampaigns.
At last count, an estimated $4 billion dollars was spent on presidential,congressional, and state races for the 2000 elections. While some of thatmoney comes from impartial federal funds, most contributions, including arecord $410 million in unrestricted soft money, come from wealthycorporations, labor unions, and individuals. Studies suggest that 80 percentof campaign contributions come from the wealthiest one quarter of onepercent the population.
Nine times out of ten, the House and Senate candidates who raise the mostmoney go on to win. No wonder public skepticism in our campaign process isso rampant. By making elected officials dependent on the goodwill of thewealthiest few of our population, present campaign practices reduce voteraccess to elected officials and ensure that candidates who seek office willspend most of their time raising money rather than meeting with constituentsand discussing ideas.
In recent times, religious traditions have taught us that ethicalpronouncements cannot be voiced only in the abstract. They must touch themundane daily life of our societal institutions. To that end, religiousleaders have and should continue to be a leading voice in the efforts todevise a fair system of campaign financing.
Religious communities and clergy were instrumental in the passage of publicfinancing initiatives in four states: Arizona, Maine, Vermont andMassachusetts. The Washington coalition, "Religious Leaders for CampaignFinance Reform," helped bring 90-year-old Doris "Granny D" Haddock to thepublic's attention after her 14-month, 3,000 mile walk across America forcampaign finance reform. The coalition also played a major role in buildingup grassroots support among adherents of all faiths for the McCain-FeingoldCampaign Reform Act of 1997.
We also reacted with disappointment this year to the defeat of clean moneyinitiatives in Missouri and Oregon, but are mindful that the public stilldemands fundamental reform of our campaign financing system. Four out of thefive defeated incumbents in the Senate voted against the McCain Feingold Actin 1998, and a 1999 survey revealed that 72 percent of Democratic and 63percent of Republic voters supported a system of voluntary full publicfinancing and spending limits for campaigns.
We know that the temptation to buy unjust favors is an ancient one. Theprophet Amos thundered against those merchants in Israel who "...sell therighteous for silver and the needy for a pair of shoes...and push theafflicted out of the way..." (Amos 2:6-7) Psalm 15 defines upright personsas those who "...stand by their oath even to their hurt...and do not take abribe against the innocent." The Old Testament demands that we speak for thewidow, the orphan, the poor, and the stranger. The current campaign financesystem runs afoul of these common religious traditions by creating everyincentive for politicians to give priority to those special interests whohave made campaign donations.
The current system has also caused a loss of faith in public service byeroding trust in public authorities, honest and accountability. A 1999 studyrevealed that only one in four people believe that government pursues thepeople's agenda.
This lack of faith in government is a religious issue because responsivepolitical leaders and institutions are crucial to the security that isnecessary to human well-being. Politics can provide or withhold thesafety-net systems upon which the economically vulnerable depend. It canenhance or weaken the educational opportunities available to all people. Itcan contribute to health or leave people to suffer.
Religious leaders have constantly had the strength of belief to challengeirresponsible leaders and resist concentrations of power that bypass, usurp,and preclude self-determination. Thus religious communities have stood inthe forefront of civil rights struggles, of the anti-Apartheiddemonstrations, and of significant social movements around the world. Ourtraditions teach us that the advantages of power and wealth must be balancedby a respect for the inherent worth and dignity of all people, regardless oftheir material circumstances.
Both candidates have made it clear that religious values have a role to theplay in the shaping of our nation's policies and priorities. We should holdthem to their word. Any system that forces elected officials to spend theirtime raising money rather than raising the moral consciousness of our nationand addressing the needs of our neediest citizens cannot meet the values orinterests of the United States or its faith communities.