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Political money must be brought under control

Last April, Congress passed landmark reform legislation to clean up the campaign finance scandal in Congress and the White House. President Bush vetoed the bill; Congress lacked the two-thirds majority vote to override the veto.

This biggest of all money scandals has corrupted our federal government and cost taxpayers untold billions of dollars over the past 20 years.

Here are just a few examples that illustrate the pervasive influence of the campaign money scandal that now flourishes on Capitol Hill and at the White House:

1. President Bush and Team 100: While accepting public funds in 1988, President Bush solicited and received $100,000 in contributions from corporate CEOs, Wall Street investment bankers, savings and loan executives, real estate developers and others; most had important matters before government. This operation, known as Team 100, raised nearly $25-million from just 249 individuals. Team 100 is still alive and well; the presidency is once again on the auction block.

2. The Republican and Democratic National Committees ignore congressional ban on corporate contributions: Congress banned contributions from corporations to influence federal elections. Despite this prohibition, both political parties are raising huge corporate contributions, using the fiction that this money has nothing to do with federal campaigns. This is "soft money," sometimes called "sewer money," that is laundered by state political committees and finds its way to federal presidential campaigns. During the past three years, four Fortune 500 companies alone contributed more than $2.5-million to Republican and Democratic National Committees.

3. PAC money and multibillion-dollar giveaways: Realtor PACs donated $5.6-million to members of Congress during the past five years. It paid off. Three hundred twenty-six members cosponsored and Congress passed legislation to restore a real estate shelter that was eliminated by the 1986 Tax Reform Act. You ask: Where are the 326 members when asked to cosponsor legislation mandating universal health care?

Believe it or not, 12 of our 19 Florida congressmen voted against the campaign finance reform bill. These opponents include C.W. Bill Young and Mike Bilirakis.

President Bush vetoed the bill because it would authorize the use of public money to help finance congressional elections. His veto message didn't say that he sought and willingly accepted $200-million in public money to conduct his own campaigns _ more than any candidate in history. This legislation offered the best opportunity to reduce the enormous influence of special interests on Congress and the White House. It also would go a long way to reduce the grip of incumbents on Congress.

Common Cause, the non-partisan citizens lobby, announced that it is conducting a nationwide Anti-Corruption Campaign, a lobbying effort to get U.S. Senate and House candidates to make public commitments for basic change of the political system in Washington.

Many candidates running for office this year, incumbents and challengers alike, are talking about the need for change in Washington. Real change must include a fundamental change in the way our political system is working. The power and influence of Washington lobbyists and their special-interest political money must be brought under control if we are to end government gridlock and return to a government that serves all the people.

Col. Robert Sherwood, U.S. Army retired, is a representative on the national governing board of Common Cause.