Published on Monday, April 3, 2000 in the Washington Post
New Poll: Americans Eager For Far-Ranging Campaign Finance Reform--Even Public Funding For Elections
by Ceci Connolly
A national poll to be released today suggests Americans are eager to pass far-ranging campaign finance reform--even public funding for elections.

The survey by Public Campaign, a group that supports overhauling campaign finance laws, gives ammunition to Vice President Gore, who has embraced election law changes, and hints that his Republican opponent may have trouble dispelling the notion that his success to date has been the result of zealous fund-raising rather than broad-based support.

Nearly three-fourths of the voters participating in the survey said Texas Gov. George W. Bush's $70 million fund-raising tally is "excessive and a sign of what's wrong with politics today." Similarly, 40 percent said Bush is the presumptive nominee because of "the amount of money he raised."

The poll, which The Washington Post received before its release, also shows an electorate widely convinced that the majority of politicians are corrupted by large contributions, with voters deeply skeptical of arguments that campaign finance reform threatens free speech.

Public Campaign seized on the findings as evidence that in Campaign 2000, politicians ignore the issue at their peril.

"This survey shows the public is still way ahead of the politicians in understanding that the system needs a complete overhaul, though some politicians are beginning to catch on," said Ellen Miller, president of Public Campaign.

"Opposition to campaign finance reform could cost a member of Congress on Election Day," Democratic pollster Mark Mellman wrote in a memo summarizing the results. "By more than a 2-to-1 margin, voters say they are likely to vote against a candidate who opposes clean-money campaign reform."

Mellman said the issue is likely to be most potent in races where one candidate aggressively promotes campaign finance changes and the other rejects the notion. "There has to be someone making the case," he said.

However, the poll offers little concrete data that campaign finance reform will be the determinative factor in most voter choices next fall. Only one-third of the people surveyed rank special-interest influence as a top concern, according to the survey. And in the 3 1/2 years since Mellman conducted a similar survey, support for major changes in campaign finance laws has climbed only 7 percent, to 59 percent today.

But respondents did show enthusiasm for campaign finance changes that have already been endorsed by voters in Maine, Arizona, Vermont and Massachusetts. Those initiatives offer candidates a set amount of public money if they agree to forgo all other contributions and abide by spending limits. In the latest poll, 68 percent supported the group's proposal.

Even when pollsters offered criticism of public financing, suggesting for instance that it would be "welfare for politicians" and would encourage more fringe candidates to run, support for full public funding remained at 67 percent.

The survey found minimal support for Republican efforts to raise individual contribution limits above the $1,000 set in 1974.

The poll of 800 likely voters, conducted March 20-23, had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

2000 The Washington Post Company