WITH ALL THE slogans, polls, debates and television ads, it's often easy to forget what running for office is really all about: money.
Well, maybe that's a slight exaggeration. But there's no argument that money plays an ever-increasing role in how our representatives win elections. In 1974, the average cost of a successful campaign for a U.S. House Of Representatives seat was less than $100,000. By 1992, the average price of admission to the House had risen to more than $500,000. In Arizona, half the winning House candidates in 1994 raised more than a half-million dollars each.
The cost of U.S. Senate races has likewise climbed. In Arizona, Republican Jon Kyl raised more than $4 million for his successful run, setting a new record in the state.
Unsurprisingly, much of this money comes from individuals or special interest groups with business before Congress who make campaign contributions to push their agenda, which helps further corrupt our rapidly rotting democracy.
"We basically have a privately funded system of elections here in the United States," says Jim Driscoll, president of Arizona Citizen Action. "And what that means is whoever has the most private money gets to run the election process. It disenfranchises people who just vote."
Since the mainstream media generally ignores campaign fundraising, it falls on the shoulders of social do-gooders to track spending on political races. Chief among these groups is the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C., a non-profit, non-partisan research organization which painstakingly analyzes campaign spending records.
For the last dozen years, the center has worked to create a mammoth database using Federal Election Commission records. With this National Library on Money & Politics, staffers are able to do custom research for news organizations to increase awareness of the effect of money on the American political system.
Tucsonans will have a chance to learn more about the organization when Ellen Miller, the center's executive director, visits Tucson to speak about Money in Politics.
"She's clearly one of the national experts on the subject of money and politics," says Driscoll, who promises an eye-opening evening.
Ellen Miller from the Center for Responsive Politics and Ben Senturia from the Working Group on Electoral Democracy will speak about Money in Politics at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, October 26, at the UA Chemistry Biological Sciences Building, Room 216. Free. For more information call 323-2208.
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