THE Senate vote to preserve the public-financing system for presidential elections was indeed a victory for anyone concerned about the undemocratic influence of private money in public elections. But if we read subsequent editorial opinions in the Washington Post and the New York Times, we are led to believe that the presidential financing system is nearly ideal. It sounds as if presidential candidates no longer need to raise large sums from interested contributors and that they are no longer in debt to powerful special interest groups.
The truth about the presidential system is that it still operates within the "golden rule" paradigm of politics: "Those who have the gold, rule." We can no longer ignore the fact that the presidential system is seriously flawed.
The 1996 presidential race illustrates all the weaknesses. There is an appalling emphasis on raising enormous sums of money in order to be considered a viable candidate. Texas Sen. Phil "I love raising money" Gramm (R) set this year's challenge at $20 million. Now all the candidates, the media, and ultimately the voters are using candidates' fund-raising ability as the standard of the candidates' political earnestness. Wisconsin Gov. Tommy G. Thompson (R) estimates that to be a real contender, he needs close to $10 million for a late-starting run. Former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander (R) sums it all up by saying, "The 1995 primary is the fund-raiser."
Then there is the pandering to wealthy interests. Mr. Alexander, who seems to be the most candid about what is going on, notes that the best move he has made in his presidential campaign has been to get to know the fat-cat financiers of the Republican Party. Alexander once complained that in order to compete, he would have to spend all his time with people who can give $500 or $1,000, which he said "isn't a good way to prepare yourself for [being] president."