The Pilot Editorial

Monday, November 18, 2002

Too much money on politics?

A new study released Thursday shows that Iowa state-level candidates alone raised $41.5 million in donations for the recent midterm campaigns. The true figure would be much higher, considering the outdated campaign finance reporting system, and the "soft money" that goes straight to the parties (banned for future elections.)

Iowa Legislature candidates raised nearly $8 million this year alone. You can add to that the small coffers of thousands of local candidates.

It's serious dough, especially when you consider that a lot of the big boys' donations went for those negative TV ads that sent us racing for the channel-clicker anyway.

Joan Lucas, of the group Money and Politics Iowa, plans to launch a new effort for campaign finance reform in the legislature this year, banking on the fact that a third of the lawmakers will be new and perhaps open to change.

Lucas wants modernized reporting, because current systems don't expose problems until after an election is over. She also wants limits on what an individual can donate to one candidate, for fear leaders will become reliant on and indebted to just a few wealthy special interest people.

Fair concerns, but a longshot. We doubt the people who just got elected under a system are going to bend over backwards to change it.

Short of reform, why not bring a bit of positive impact to even the negative campaigns? What if all the state's candidates pledged to give 10 percent of their warchests to non-profit charities in the state? And what if the losers gave their leftover funds with the same intentions?

It could mean millions for culture, children, the needy. You know, all the stuff those politicians always promise to address anyway.

Frankly, a candidate's choice of a charity to promote might tell us more about them than some of the campaign ads they've been running.

Getting both parties to agree is about as likely as Senators Harkin and Grassley kissing announcing their engagement, but it would be a good first step in restoring the image of politics in this state.