Backtalk

Our March/April listing of the country’s top political contributors prompted readers to ponder the profit on paybacks and donors to explain their motives. Environmentalists detailed more problems with shrimp farming; gun mortality numbers sparked debate; and readers overwhelmed us with their favorite political songs.

CAPITOL GAINS

The MoJo 400’s emphasis on paybacks (“ The Mother Jones 400,” March/April) is a key element of the story, one few reporters bother to dig up. Financing politics through private contributions costs the public much more in tax subsidies and favorable regulations than would public funding of politics. After all, the Mother Jones 400 are shrewd businesspeople. They invest in politics because the contributions produce a healthy return.

Dwayne Andreas‘ $2.1 billion subsidy for Archer Daniels Midland, for example, is a really good return on the $349,000 he contributed–about 600,000 percent. That $2.1 billion comes from the American taxpayers. It makes public funding of campaigns look cheap.

Samantha Sanchez
Money in Western Politics Project
Western States Center
Helena, Mont.

Sadly, the MoJo 400’s greenback assault on democracy has its mirror image at the state level. The cost of winning a statehouse, senate, or gubernatorial seat is doubling every few election cycles, with business donors outgiving labor and ideological groups combined by factors of 3-to-1 or more.

Fortunately, this reality has provoked a new wave of state-based reform organizing that has drawn a wide range of support. The state policy proposals generated by this fresh push extend far past what is considered viable inside the Beltway, removing rather than simply capping the bulk of contributions from the wealthy.

Such comprehensive reforms, many of which include public funding for candidates who eschew private donations and limit spending, are popular, too. Look out MoJo 400, the USA 250 million just might be gaining on you.

Nick Nyhart, Director
NECARC Money and Politics Project
Hartford, Conn.

While I share your concerns about the corrupting influence of money on the political process, I strongly object to your characterization of the Securities Litigation Reform Act. You suggest that this legislation was vetoed by President Clinton based solely on a financial relationship with a securities attorney.

The president was right to veto this bill. It offers an excellent case study of how money corrupts the legislative process. The real story, however, is not how Clinton vetoed the bill after a brief conversation with William S. Lerach, but how the perpetrators of some of the biggest securities frauds in recent history were able to buy legislation that most objective observers agree will make it easier to commit fraud, and harder for the victims of that fraud to recover their losses.

Barbara L. N. Roper, Director
Investor Protection
Consumer Federation of America
Washington, D.C.

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