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Politics and Money: Search for Dirt Isn't the Point

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Now is the time to declare a moratorium on the way we are currently thinking and talking about campaign finance reform. Enough is enough. In the rush toward uncovering wrong-doing and jockeying for attention for competing solutions, we have skipped over the most fundamental of questions central to the issue of money and politics. The debate is on a reckless path, squeezing out people's hope for action that will make a difference and further deepening Americans' frustration with politics.

In his Sept. 13 radio address, President Clinton said, "The candidates themselves are caught up in a fund raising arms race, spending more and more time raising more and more money, which is bound to raise more questions in the public's mind." That is true, but it is not the whole story.

A few days ago a cab driver in Dayton, Ohio, said to me, "What happened in the past, just let go of it. Let's get on with it." His message is clear: More negative news, charges and counter-charges, high-visibility investigations and posturing will no longer cut it, if they ever did.

There is much merit to the analysis that our citizenry is at best indifferent to the Senate and pending House hearings; tuned out to what appear as attempts to make the story of Al Gore's phone calls into a compelling, juicy soap opera, and turned off by all the hand-wringing.

The public is dissatisfied, disillusioned and disengaged on this issue because it sees those individuals directly involved as obsessed with looking through the rear-view mirror and living in the past. The public watches the debate and wonders if the nation will ever attend to what must happen in order to move the country forward.

When one sweeps away all the noise, people's basic and profound concerns appear. We know from our own long-term research that Americans care deeply about the challenges around campaign finance.

Why? Because they tell us it is an issue that speaks to the kind of politics they want in this nation. They say it strikes right at the core of some of our nation's political values - such as fairness (can we please hear all the different sides of an issue so that we can make up our minds?), equal representation (can we help determine who gets to be at the table?) and leadership (what are the genuine motivations of our country's leaders?).


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