For Immediate Release
Reform Groups Ask McCain, Obama to Promise to Reject Soft Money if Elected, Limit Appointment of Fundraisers
Next President Should Ban Soft Money for Inauguration and Convention; Forego Presidential Library Fundraising Until Term Ends
WASHINGTON - A coalition of government watchdog organizations today sent letters
to Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama urging each candidate to promise
that, if elected, he will take steps to limit the influence of special
interests in his administration.
Specifically, the groups ask each candidate to: 1) reject soft money
for his inauguration and instruct his party to do so for the 2012
convention; 2) not appoint fundraisers to ambassadorships, transition
team positions or other important government posts, except for rare
exceptions involving unusually qualified individuals; and 3) forego
fundraising for a presidential library until after he leaves the White
The newly elected president will have the power to take each of
these steps to limit the influence of special interests. The watchdog
groups support additional reforms that will require legislation, such
as the creation of viable public funding systems for congressional and
The letters were signed by representatives from Common Cause, Public Citizen and U.S. PIRG.
Inaugurations, conventions and presidential libraries have a history
of attracting massive soft money (corporate, union and unlimited
individual contributions) while big donors often have ended up in
influential or prestigious jobs. Among the issues the letters address:
Conventions. Federal law calls for the provision of grants to
finance conventions ($16.4 million for both major parties in 2008) but
forbids the parties from accepting additional money for their
conventions. The Federal Election Commission created a loophole for
private contributions in 1977 when it began permitting limited soft
money contributions to be spent on activities promoting the host city.
Between 1980 and 1992, private contributions supporting the Democratic
and Republican conventions never exceeded $8.4 million, combined. But
private contributions leaped to $38 million in 1996 and $142.6 million
in 2004, while the spending shifted almost entirely to promoting the
presidential candidates and their political parties, not the host
cities. Corporations, unions and wealthy individuals poured at least
$112 million into the recent conventions.
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Inaugurations. President Bush's 2005 inaugural committee
raised $42.8 million, most of it from major corporations and lobbying
firms. Although the committee set a $250,000 limit, at least two donors
- Ameriquest and Marriott International - skirted the limit by making
contributions through subsidiaries. At least 37 other corporations and
individuals contributed $250,000 each. It is possible to hold an
inaugural celebration without soft money. President Clinton's 1997
inaugural committee did not accept corporate contributions but raised
$23.7 million, primarily through ticket sales ranging from $10 for a
parade to $3,000 for a gala.
Appointments. At least 168 of President Bush's elite
fundraisers have received appointments to Cabinet positions (five),
ambassadorships (48), transition team positions (43) or other
government posts (88). (Numbers add up to more than 168 because some
people received more than one appointment.)
Presidential libraries. Although Clinton has not disclosed
the identities of those who financed his $165 million library in Little
Rock, Ark., $10 million reportedly was furnished by the Saudi royal
family. Fundraising for Clinton's library was embroiled in controversy
when it was revealed that it had received $450,000 from Denise Rich,
former wife of fugitive Marc Rich, whom Clinton pardoned on his final
day in office. The library of George H.W. Bush at Texas A&M
University also received large contributions from foreign entities,
including the governments of Kuwait,
Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Japan, as well as the family of
former Saudi Ambassador Bandar bin Sultan. The fundraising effort for
President George W. Bush's library recently was caught up in
controversy after The Times of London revealed a secretly videotaped conversation in which elite Bush fundraiser Stephen Payne said he could
help arrange meetings between the exiled former president of Kyrgyzstan
and top Bush administration officials. Payne recommended that the
former leader's "family, children, whatever, should probably look at
making a contribution to the Bush library
... It would be like, maybe a couple of hundred thousand dollars, or
something like that, not a huge amount but enough to show that they're
serious." Payne raised at least $100,000 for Bush in 2000 and at least
$200,000 in 2004. Bush, who once said he would probably accept foreign
money for his library, has since said through a spokesman that he will
not accept such contributions until after he leaves office.
READ the the McCain letter.
READ the Obama letter.
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