Campaign Finance Reform

Resolution Adopted by the CCAR


Adopted by the 114th Annual Convention


the Central Conference of American Rabbis

Omni Shoreham,

Washington D.C.

March, 2003


Thousands of years ago the Bible warned

against mingling money and politics. Deuteronomy 16 states, “You

shall not judge unfairly: you shall know no partiality; you shall not

take bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the

plea of the just.” The Talmud, asks in Tractate Kethuboth “What is

the reason for {[the prohibition against taking] a gift? Because as

soon as a man receives a gift from another he becomes so well disposed

towards him that he becomes like his own person, and no man sees

himself in the wrong.”


tradition also speaks clearly and unhesitatingly to the critical

importance of appointing leaders according to their merit, and for

maintaining the ability of leaders to act independently for the public

good, unfettered by the demands of the wealthy. The Talmud quotes the

biblical verse “You shall not make with Me gods of silver, neither

shall you make for yourselves gods of gold.” (Exodus 20:23) Since

the fashioning of all idols, whether made of gold or wood, is

prohibited, Rav Ashi explains that the verse actually condemns a judge

who comes to his or her position because of silver or gold. The

Shulchan Aruch, a 16th century compilation of Jewish law, goes further

to state that “If someone appoints as a judge a person who is not fit

for the position he violates a Biblical prohibition. If a judge was

appointed on account of his money, it is forbidden to appear before

him for a judgment.” (Shulchan Aruch, Hoshen Mishpat 8:1) In today

‘s electoral system it has become too common for politicians to win

public office because of the size of their campaign coffers.

On March 27 2002,

President Bush signed into law the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of

2002 (The McCain-Feingold/Shays-Meehan Bill). The historic

legislation prohibits national party committees, federal candidates

and federal office holders from raising or spending unlimited soft

money campaign contributions from corporations, labor unions and

wealthy individuals. The law prohibits corporations and labor unions

from using their funds to pay for ads featuring a federal candidate

that are broadcast to the candidate’s electorate within 30 days of

the primary and 60 days of the general election. It also increases

limits on individual contributions to House, Senate and presidential

campaigns to $2,000.


Federal Elections Commission is charged with enforcing election laws

in America. The six-member commission consists of three appointees

from each major political party. Since the passing of the McCain-

Feingold/Shays-Meehan legislation the FEC has voted to limit the

effect of some of the new campaign finance regulations. The law

prohibited Presidents and federal elected officials from soliciting

soft money contributions for a political party. By a 4 to 2 vote the

FEC adopted a regulation saying that the President and other federal

officeholders can “recommend” or “suggest” that a donor make a

soft-money contribution as long as they do not explicitly “ask” for

the contribution. The new campaign finance law also prohibited state

parties from spending any soft money to influence federal elections.

The FEC voted to allow state parties to use soft-money in get-out-

the-vote efforts that influence federal elections, including acquiring

voting lists, setting up phone banks, and sending out mass mailings.

Even if the letter and

spirit of the BPCRA were vigorously enforced, the law would be only

the first step on a long road toward a democracy where a person’s

wealth no longer determines his or her political influence.

Federal candidates raised $2.2

billion in hard money during the 2000 election cycle, donations that

were not affected by the new law. Even with a complete ban on soft

money, our elected representatives will still be beholden to wealthy

donors. Those who give hard money donations are not representative of

the rest of the American population: Only one quarter of one percent

of the population of the United States gave a hard money contribution

of $200 or more in the 2000 election cycle. A 1997 survey of such

donors revealed that four-fifths had an annual family income of more

than $100,000 a year and that more than nine out of ten were white.

Corporate and Labor PACs are also a huge source of hard money. 71 U.S.

Senators and 188 U.S. Representatives, for example, took direct hard-

money donations from Enron. 75% of $19 million contributed by the

auto industry in 2000 was in hard money. Over 60% of the real estate

industry’s $79 million was hard money, as was 40% of the

pharmaceutical industry’s $19 million donated during the 2000

election cycle.

Studies based

on data from the Federal Election Commission show a startling

correlation between contributions and votes. The skyrocketing cost of

election campaigns has favored the wealthy candidate and created an

increasing dependency on PAC money.

“Clean Money” campaign reform reduces the inherent

conflicts of interest that arise when the campaigns of public servants

are privately financed. Under a “clean money” system, candidates

who agree to forego private contributions, accept strict spending

limits, and demonstrate a significant threshold of public support,

receive an equal and limited amount of money to run their campaigns

from a publicly financed clean election fund. Clean Money campaigns

have been successful in Arizona, Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine and

have been implemented to varying degrees.

On a national level, the current campaign finance

system has also proven to significantly disadvantage challengers, who

are often unable to raise the campaign funds necessary to buy the time

on national television that is essential in getting their message out

to voters.

In the 2000

election cycle, approximately $1 billion of the total $4 billion

raised was spent on television advertising. Between 1980 and 2000, the

amount of money spent on political ads more than quadrupled, even

after adjusting for inflation. The rising costs of political ads

corresponds with a reduction in the amount of time broadcast

television devotes to substantive coverage of issues, debates,

conventions and candidate speeches. The three national network

nightly newscasts devoted 28 percent less time to coverage of the 2000

campaign than they did to the 1988 campaign, the last open-seat

contest for the presidency. The typical local television station

aired just 45 seconds a night of candidate discourse in the month

before the 2000 election, and the national networks aired just 64

seconds a night–both far below a five-minute a night voluntary

standard recommended by a White House advisory panel charged with

updating the public interest obligations of broadcasters.

Congress must legislate an end to

this pernicious influence of money on our political system.

THEREFORE, the Commission on Social

Action of Reform Judaism resolves to:

Support legislation to establish a system of free

electronic media time for candidate ads, debates, and issue discussion

before every election;


on the Federal Elections Commission to uphold the letter and spirit of

the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002; and

Affirm our commitment to public financing of

political campaigns including support for state level “clean money”